Portland Resolves Issues With Non-Essential Businesses Amid COVID-19 Regulations

The city of Portland had initially not allowed small businesses to offer curbside pickup or to ship orders until a change on Monday

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A spat between small businesses and the city of Portland, Maine, over the city's response to COVID-19 has been resolved after a group of shop owners called for change.

Last Tuesday, the city released an FAQ sheet for businesses explaining guidelines for operation during the virus outbreak.

Among them were rules, interpreted by non-essential businesses like book or jewelry stores, as disallowing them from offering curbside pickup or shipping orders, something that is allowed under Maine's state of civil emergency as long as proper social distancing is observed.

"We had just been preparing to launch our online shop," said Erin Kiley, co-owner of antique store Flea for All. "To feel like the City of Portland didn't have our backs in this was a pretty hard blindside."

A back and forth between business owners and the city ensued for a few days, with letters sent from Kiley and others to councilors and business leaders using social media to advocate for clarification or a reversing of stricter interpretations.

"What became imminently clear was that there were varying interpretations about how non-essential businesses can operate," said Portland Mayor Kate Snyder, who began the move to adjust the restrictions to allow people like Kiley to resume curbside and online shipping operations last Friday.

That was followed by a meeting Monday where city councilors completed the adjustments but acknowledged the situation of adapting regulations to the reality of the coronavirus pandemic.

"None of us have ever dealt with something like this before and we're going to have to make and remake actions," said Portland city councilor Jill Duson in Monday's virtual meeting.

Kiley says she completely understands the need to remain flexible and believes Portland's small shop owners are ready to do what is necessary to stop COVID-19.

But she believes the process could be made more clear with a straightforward channel of communication between the city and businesses like a system that sends direct emails to businesses as changes are made.

"By now, we should have systems in place that help us navigate this," Kiley said. "To be honest, we're all in a pretty scary place right now."

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