As the hours ticked down to the start of Maine’s stay-at-home order, essential retail stores took steps Wednesday to meet new mandates laid out by Gov. Janet Mills to limit coronavirus transmission.

Beginning Thursday, retailers such as supermarkets, groceries, pharmacies, hardware and convenience stores must limit the number of customers inside at one time, step up sanitation and enforce social distancing measures under the executive order Mills issued Tuesday.

Westbrook Market, a small convenience store in that city, has posted about social distancing on Facebook and put up signs inside and outside the store reminding customers to stay six feet apart. Staff are cleaning shopping baskets before new customers use them, and there is tape on the floor near the checkout to demarcate a safe distance.

“These are things we’ve been doing all week – it isn’t a huge change in the governor’s mandate,” said owner Maryanne Alhamdany.

A few times cashiers have had to instruct people in line to maintain their distance, but Alhamdany said she doesn’t think the order’s five-customer limit for small stores like hers will be hard to enforce.

The market was busy Wednesday, as customers piled in to stock up on toilet paper, bread, milk, cigarettes, wine and beer before the stay-at-home order went into effect.


“Already this morning, people have been binge shopping again,” worried about further restrictions on leaving home, she said. “They are preparing to listen to the government and do what they are supposed to do, which is nice.”

Stores under 7,500 square feet such as convenience stores and gas stations have to limit customers to five at a time inside. Stores such as pharmacies and some hardware stores, between 7,500 and 25,000 square feet, have a 15-customer limit.

Stores between 25,000 and 50,000 square feet, such as local grocers, have a 50-customer limit, and supermarkets between 50,000 and 75,000 square feet can only have 75 customers at a time.

Big box stores such as Walmart and Home Depot have a 100-customer limit under the executive order

The order also requires stores to enforce social distancing requirements and post signs inside and outside instructing customers to stay six feet from others, mark lanes with signage and floor lines to impose social distancing, disinfect every used cart and basket before reuse, and take all reasonable steps to minimize customer handling of unsold merchandise.

Violating the order can equal a violation of a company’s permit, license or other authorization, and failure to comply can result in on-site restrictions or closure.


About 23 types of retail stores are deemed essential by the state. They include food and drug stores, but also automobile mechanics, laundromats, animal feed and pet stores, banks and medical marijuana dispensaries.

The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development has received more than 1,200 requests to be designated an essential business, said spokeswoman Kate Foye. Since Mills’ first executive order closing nonessential businesses on March 24, gun stores, bicycle repair shops, and fishing supply and bait shops have been reclassified as essential after initially being deemed nonessential, she said.

More than 800 requests have been received and acted upon. Foye said the list will be updated, but that the department could not provide a list of the businesses that have been accepted or denied essential designation.

Other businesses can remain open as long as they do not allow in-person contact with customers or vendors, or require more than 10 employees in a space in which they can’t maintain a six-foot distance, she said.

DiPietro’s Market in South Portland has shifted to mainly curbside sales in the past two weeks, said owner Sam DiPietro. He’s received orders as large as a bulk wine and food purchase, and as small as two bottles of water.

“We’ll do whatever needs to be done,” DiPietro said. He has installed plexiglass in front of the cashier and prevented customers from handling their own to-go slices of pizza, among other measures.


Keeping customers to five or less shouldn’t be an issue, DiPietro said. Most people keep their distance from others, but over the weekend he had to ask a family of four, with two young children, to leave and have one of the adults come back to buy what the group needed.

“Some people just don’t get the whole seriousness of it,” he said.

Other locally owned stores feel the mandates will be challenging to follow.

A customer waits to check out while another enters at Anania’s in Portland on Wednesday. The store added Plexiglas sheets at the registers to shield cashiers from customers, installed a hand sanitizer dispenser at the door and put tape markers on the floor 6 feet apart for people to stand on while they wait to pay. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Ed Anania, who owns two Anania’s Variety locations in Portland, said his sales have fallen by 40 percent in the past two weeks, and he’s not sure he has enough staff to ensure the store doesn’t go over the five-customer limit during busy times at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“Staffing is already tight, if there has to be someone out there asking people to wait outside it is going to hurt business,” Anania said.

Representatives for large convenience store chains Cumberland Farms and Big Apple did not return inquiries Wednesday about how they would prepare to follow the new state mandates.


Employees at Hannaford supermarkets will man entrances with counters to keep track of how many people are inside at a time, and form outside lines with six-foot distances, said spokesman Eric Blom. The supermarket chain and other chain retailers already have improved sanitation and protection for staff and customers.

“We ask that customers please shop alone or with as few others as absolutely necessary for their trip; make one larger trip, rather than several smaller ones; and try to visit the store during off hours,” Blom said. Stores are busiest when they first open at 7 a.m., and on weekdays between 4 and 6 p.m., late morning on Saturday, and early afternoon Sundays.

Shaw’s supermarkets said it would take similar steps as other stores to follow the new rules, said spokeswoman Teresa Eddington.

“We will continue to comply and implement all state regulations regarding the safety of our customers and employees during this time,” she said.

Many Maine grocery stores were prepared for Mills’ order, said Christine Cummings, executive director of the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association.

For example, some grocers have numbered shopping carts so they know how many customers are in at a time and can sanitize them after use, Cummings said.

“It’s not like they are starting over – a lot of these procedures were already in place – now it is just taking it to the next level,” she said.

Stricter measures from the state to combat coronavirus were likely, and many association members had made plans from watching other states including Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire issue their own stay-at-home orders, Cummings said.

“Folks shouldn’t have been naive about what was happening regionally and around the country, about what was coming toward us,” she said.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.