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PORTLAND, Maine — City officials reversed an interpretation of an emergency order saying non-essential businesses were prohibited from shipping products and allowing no-contact delivery on Friday after receiving a wave of pushback from business owners.
Business owners banded together Thursday after Portland issued a frequently asked questions guide for small businesses detailing prohibitions against shipping and curbside pick-up for products at businesses deemed non-essential amid the coronavirus outbreak, including bookstores and clothing outlets.
The city reversed that interpretation after the backlash on Friday. City Manager Jon Jennings said Portland staff will permit non-essential businesses to fulfill online orders, ship products and conduct no-contact delivery and curbside pick-up. The City Council has called an emergency meeting for Monday to revisit the rules and seek a formal vote.
“From the beginning, our response to COVID-19 has been aggressively cautious in hopes that we could stem the spread of the virus, and that collective efforts would allow us to resume normal operations sooner rather than later,” Mayor Kate Snyder said in a statement.
Small-business owners said the measures as originally interpreted by the city were more strict than anywhere else in the country and effectively gave a boost to chains and corporations.
Mary Alice Scott, executive director of Portland Buy Local, a group representing 400 businesses, said she was grateful that the city reversed the restrictions, which she criticized earlier as “supporting and furthering corporate consolidation.”
“I know we all want to work together to protect public health and I’m certain we can find ways to do that while allowing local businesses to have safe, socially distant sales,” Scott said.
An amendment put forth by City Councilor Belinda Ray to allow staff to conduct shipping and delivery services from storefronts failed on Tuesday, with the council voting 7-2 against it. Ray said “people are understandably up in arms” because councilors “restricted businesses to the point where they can’t survive.”
But Councilor Tae Chong, who backed the restrictions, wrote in a social media post Friday that the council would be “blamed for not doing enough to protect the community” if they voted to open non-essential businesses for online and curbside pickup.
The novel coronavirus can survive on certain surfaces longer than others, studies have shown. Cardboard can carry the virus for up to 24 hours, and up to 2 or 3 days on plastic or stainless steel.
A statewide rent assistance relief program announced this week by Gov. Janet Mills would grant $500 one-time payments toward rent for tenants whose income has been affected by the pandemic, but it is unclear if it applies to commercial tenants.
One-third of Portland Buy Local members said that their landlords refused to offer help toward April rent in the form of reductions or deferrals, Scott said. Dozens of small-business owners called on the city to implement a rent freeze earlier this month.
Watch: Janet Mills extends civil emergency in Maine