SOUTH PORTLAND — Officials in South Portland, Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth are complying with an order issued by Gov. Janet Mills requiring “non-essential” businesses to close, but stress many businesses in area communities are allowed to remain open.

Interior of the Beach Boys Cannabis Company in South Portland. Most people aren’t seeing the interior of this or many other businesses, even those that remain open. Courtesy / Tom Mourmouras

Along with the announcement, the governor issued a written order with a list of the types of businesses her office considers “essential.” According to Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall, that list includes, among many other businesses, all grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, banks and insurance companies.

“All of those businesses are essential,” he said.

Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Matthew Sturgis also noted that in his community, parks and other public spaces also remain open, so long as people gather in small groups and practice social distancing, they should take advantage.

“We want people to get outside, take care of themselves, enjoy the fresh air,” he said.

The governor’s orders also instructed business that remain open to operate remotely if possible, abide by the 6-foot distancing guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and make sure that no more than 10 workers operate in the same general space.

Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said it was impossible at this point to quantify the impact of the governor’s order on the business community. Local businesses, both essential and non-essential, are still grappling with what the governor’s order means for them, she said.

“Everyone’s going to be harmed by this,” she said.

Hentzel noted, however, that it’s also led to creative solutions, such as restaurants and bars offering curbside pickup or gift card sales to boost income. Even businesses deemed non-essential can stay afloat by converting to e-commerce, which does not violate the governor’s order.

“It’s not business-as-normal,” she said. “It’s business-as-very-unusual.”

One business remaining open in South Portland is Beach Boys Cannabis Company. The medical marijuana dispensary has been operating since June 2019. Co-owner Tom Mourmouras said he has applied for a recreational sales license, but has not received it yet, and the governor’s list of essential businesses does include medical dispensaries such as his.

Mourmouras said he is breathing a sigh of relief, as his is one business that would be hit pretty hard by a closure.

“We have less options to pursue if we have to shut down,” he said.

Mourmouras said he is following the governor’s orders, however. The company is only doing pickup and local delivery service. The store is not open; patients must call ahead and only one person at a time is allowed to come onto the premises.

“It’s been a little of a learning curve for some of our patients, but most of them have got the hang of it by now,” Mourmouras said.

Based on the governor’s orders, Hall said “non-essential” businesses include a number of service industries, such as hair and nail salons and barbershops.

“Arguably, there are dozens and dozens of others,” he said.

Most officials indicated that enforcement of the orders, however, may not be heavy-handed. In South Portland, the City Council held a virtual meeting using teleconferencing software Tuesday night. During the meeting, Police Chief Timothy Sheehan noted that technically a business violating the order could be charged with a Class E misdemeanor, but stressed he did not want to begin criminalizing business owners. If a business is violating the orders in his community, he said, the first step most likely would be talking with the owners, and working toward a solution that will benefit everyone.

“We’re taking the track that we’re going to get through this together,” he said.

Sturgis, when told of Sheehan’s comments, said, “Our approach would be very similar.”

Hall also acknowledged that it was a “practical impossibility” to forcibly enforce the governor’s orders, and noted that the orders mirror the recommendations already issued region-wide. Now, Mills is just calling it a mandate.

“These recommendations have been around for over a week, and that’s (just) the next step that she’s taken,” Hall said.

Sturgis said he recognized tensions are high and said he hopes the public will continue to work with town officials to get through this crisis.

“I think we’re all pulling the rope in the same direction, and (town officials) need all the help we can get,” he said.

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