Non-essential business throughout the city, including downtown on Exchange Street, will be temporarily permitted to conduct shipping, no-contact delivery, and curbside pick-up in order to fulfill online and phone orders. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — The City Council, responding to pushback from the business community, has eased restrictions on businesses deemed non-essential, allowing them to fulfill phone and online orders through shipping, delivery or curbside pickup.

Councilors informally agreed in a workshop Monday not to enforce regulations that prevented them from doing so under City Manager Jon Jennings’ coronavirus emergency order of March 25.

“I think this is the best way forward at this time,” Councilor Justin Costa said. “I say that knowing we will have to revisit this as the facts and circumstances change.”

Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who felt the direction given in March was appropriate, said he supported relaxing the non-essential business rules until the council revisits the emergency stay at home order at its meeting April 27, when it is set to expire. But, he said, it doesn’t mean non-essential businesses can fully reopen to customers and they must not skirt the rules for continued social distancing and for wearing personal protection like masks and gloves while working.

The pushback from the business community came after the city released a  frequently asked questions document April 17 that said non-essential businesses could not ship orders or provide curbside pickup. Councilors Monday said they received hundreds of emails objecting to those restrictions.

Some non-essential businesses in the city have been shipping, delivering and offering pickup of their products, because, as Mayor Kate Snyder said, there were “varying interpretations of the emergency order as it relates to non-essential businesses.”

Councilor Tae Chong said he would like to see protocols developed that dictate how businesses operate when shipping, delivering or offering pickup.

“I am looking for ways to keep employees safe and citizens safe with some basic, simple guidance,” he said.

Councilor Belinda Ray last week unsuccessfully tried to get her colleagues to formally amend the local stay at home order to better align with the state order that allows non-essential businesses to take orders by phone, email or other remote means for delivery. The state order also permits employees to access non-essential workplaces to check on the building’s condition, do payroll and maintain inventory. Ray said she will make that request again April 27.

“I look forward to offering that amendment again and getting a better result,” she said.

Councilor Nick Mavodones, who said at the time he was not supportive of rolling back the emergency order regulations, changed his mind Monday, but he remains worried about “what’s going to happen going forward from a public safety and public health standpoint.”

 

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