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Rural Retailers in 12 of 16 Counties Begin Reopening in Maine

The retailers in 12 counties that have not experienced large numbers of coronavirus cases began reopening Monday

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Retailers in 12 counties that have not experienced large numbers of coronavirus cases began reopening Monday in Maine.

New guidelines announced late last week by Gov. Janet Mills allow retail stores to reopen with enhanced safety precautions in parts of rural Maine except for four counties: York, Cumberland, Androscoggin and Penobscot.

LaNiece Sirois from the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce encouraged customers to be patient as retailers sort out safety restrictions. Among other things, retailers have limits on how many people can be in a store at a time, she said.

On Monday, a few businesses in downtown Bath, which is in Sagadahoc County, opened with state-mandated social distancing measures in place.

Pitter Patter, a store specializing in baby clothing, was among the businesses that decided to reopen.

"I knew I wanted to open," said owner Colleen Whitaker. "I opened my store in 2007 then we had the economy crash. I learned how to adjust and I'm going to adjust again."

She said she was able to find gloves, wipes and masks to open her doors with just a few days notice.

For Whitaker, the store's set up has changed to accommodate safety including signs mandating customers to wear masks and use hand sanitizer at the door. She also spread out clothing racks and has special baby foot marks taped to the floor to show where customers should stand.

"I thought we needed to be cute. We're a baby store," Whitaker said.

Next door at Over the Moon, a store specializing in women's clothing and bra fittings, owner Bette Spettel said she was not having as easy a time adapting her business and has opted to remain curbside in the near-term.

"Fitting rooms are not to be used so I don't know how to open and serve women," she explained.

Spettel said she has made phone calls to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and industry groups trying to find the best practices but has come up short.

Some of the answers she's seeking include suggested methods to clean bras and other delicate garments to prevent them from harboring the coronavirus.

"These are answers we should have had already," Spettel said.

Elsewhere in Bath, businesses were taking a similar approach and kept tables for curbside pickup out front for the time being.

Even retailers with multiple locations like Renys are waiting to unlock their doors until they're absolutely sure they can minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 as much as possible.

"If everybody does everything right, this is going to work," said Renys president, John Reny. "We're trying to do our part."

Retail stores are just the beginning for Maine's rural reopening. On May 18, restaurants in those same twelve counties which include towns and cities like Augusta, Bar Harbor and Rockland will be allowed to open to limited dine-in customers.

One person died and 26 more people tested positive for the virus over the past 24 hours, the Maine Center for Disease Control reported.

The updated figures bring the total number of deaths to 65 and the total number of confirmed cases to 1,462 in Maine, officials said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

NBC10 Boston and Associated Press
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