Michelle Souliere works at The Green Hand Bookshop, which she owns on Congress Street in Portland. She says she’s glad that the city eased restrictions on mail-order and curbside pickup for “non-essential” businesses. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The city of Portland on Friday walked back new restrictions on how businesses can operate under a stay-at-home order that included prohibitions on shipping and curbside pick-up for non-essential businesses.

The move has been welcomed by business owners like Michelle Souliere, who owns Green Hand Bookshop on Congress Street and has been depending on customers’ mail orders since the March 24 order mandated that non-essential businesses close to the public.

“It’s been tough,” Souliere said. “The only thing saving us are customers who still have their jobs who are calling in and buying gift certificates or doing big orders because they want us to stay afloat.”

Souliere said she was shocked and hurt by the city’s guidance Thursday saying that “non-essential” businesses would not be allowed to do curbside pickup or shipping, and that their activities would be restricted to administrative tasks such as paying vendors and processing checks.

The “FAQ for Businesses” document also said violations of the city order could be punished by a $500 fine and the loss or suspension of a business license. It also instructed people on how to report a violation to police.

Souliere and other business owners complained to the city, which on Friday announced in a news release that non-essential businesses could continue filling orders through shipping, no-contact delivery and curbside pickup pending any further action from the City Council.

The council is scheduled to hold an emergency remote workshop Monday to clarify the rules for non-essential businesses.

Mayor Kate Snyder, in an interview Friday, said the language around non-essential business operations in the March 24 order hasn’t changed, but there have been different interpretations among city staff and officials about what it means. The order now says that non-essential businesses can access their brick-and-mortar premises for essential functions as long as social distancing protocols are followed and the fewest number of employees possible are on site.

“Everybody agrees keeping small local businesses engaged in commerce is so important,” Snyder said. “And yet as we went down the path of stay-at-home orders we wanted to make sure people are at home except for essential things like going to the grocery store or the doctor.

“I  would say the trigger that caused a lot of communication both last night and this morning had to do with how and if non-essential business are able to respond to customer inquiries and if they are able to respond, through what types of fulfillment.”

Mary Alice Scott, executive director of Portland Buy Local, a group of about 400 members supporting locally owned and independent businesses, said she immediately heard concerns from businesses about the city’s guidance on Thursday.

“They have no income coming in,” Scott said. “If they’re doing shipping it’s a fraction of what they were able to generate before this and they still have a lot of expenses. Many have to pay rent fully and on time. They have to cover health insurance and just buy groceries.”

Scott said she was pleased with the city’s quick response and willingness to listen to concerns Friday, and she is hopeful the council will solidify the new guidance allowing for shipping, curbside pickup and no-contact delivery.

Erin Kiley, who owns the Portland Flea for All with her husband, Nathaniel Baldwin, said she too hopes the city will reverse course from Thursday’s guidance.

“They’re basically saying I can pay bills,” Kiley said of the guidance in the FAQ. “Even though I can’t make any money, I can pay bills.”

She said she has been able to do a handful of furniture sales via pickup and delivery, and has been struggling to pay rent at the store.

“I would like to see them totally reverse course and confirm what we all already know, which is that retail businesses are as vital to this community as ‘essential’ businesses,” Kiley said. “Portland retailers would be devastatingly affected by such a sweeping order and what they need to do is allow us to do the bare minimum to keep our businesses afloat.”

Snyder said the city will be looking at state guidance Monday as well as looking ahead to April 27, when the city is scheduled to consider whether to extend the stay-at-home order as officials weigh the rules for businesses.

“We’re looking at all actions we’re taking through the public health lens and trying to be so aggressively cautious in trying to stem the spread of the virus,” Snyder said. “Yet the economic impact to local business is tremendous. I don’t lose sight of that and I don’t think anyone on the council or staff does.”

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