The plan by Gov. Janet Mills to reopen Maine’s battered economy in a four-stage process that begins Friday drew a mixed reaction from the state’s business community.

Some said they like having a timeline that at least removes some of the uncertainty surrounding life under lockdown. Others said Mills’ approach is too cautious, and that many businesses could operate safely well before the July 1 date proposed for Stage 3 of her reopening plan.

Still more felt that, with a 14-day quarantine remaining in effect for visitors from out of state, the bottom would fall out of the tourist industry.

“It has the potential not only to kill off the tourist season, but also to close a bunch of small hotels and restaurants and the jobs that come with them,” said Steve Hewins, president and CEO of HospitalityMaine. “Why would anybody come to Maine and sit in a hotel room for 14 days? It just doesn’t measure up.”

Hewins said his group is in contact with the Department of Economic and Community Development about having more input on the rules guiding the reopening.

“We are working with the DECD to help clarify the restaurant and hotel guidelines, and expect to have more involvement in the restart going forward,” he said.


Mills extended her stay-at-home order through May 31 with a few modifications that begin Friday, marking the first of four stages that allow a gradual reopening of business sectors provided there are no new surges in COVID-19 cases. Barbershops, hair salons, pet groomers, car dealerships and golf courses are among the first to have restrictions lifted, although new safety checklists designed in collaboration with the state must be followed.

If all goes well, a second stage beginning in June allows for the reopening of restaurants, fitness centers and retail stores along with lodging and camping for Maine residents only. In July, bars open up, along with some degree of lodging and summer camps for visitors from away, who still face a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Maine.

The fourth and final stage does not include a projected date but lifts most restrictions, and Mills envisions students returning to school in the fall.

What Tom Landry liked best about the approach was the analogy Mills used in her briefing Tuesday afternoon. She spoke not of flipping a switch to go from closed to open, but of turning a dial to achieve the proper balance between, as she called it, economics and epidemiology.

“It’s being prudent, it’s being reasonable,” said Landry, a commercial real estate broker from Portland. “I’m impressed and grateful that in a time of crisis we have someone so conscientious and balanced in her approach, and that it’s being based on science.”

Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine, said he was disappointed that most retail stores can’t open until June.


“We’ve heard pretty clearly from our (350) members that they can do some sort of opening with proper protocol and mitigation,” Picard said. “We also think there’s some merit to looking at things regionally. That if you’re in Presque Isle or someplace in (Aroostook) County, why can’t they open up earlier than, say, Cumberland County?”

Kimberly Nadeau Lindlof, president and CEO of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, said her phone was blowing up Tuesday afternoon with calls from members upset about having to remain closed for at least another month.

“They’re discouraged, they’re distraught, they’re trying to figure out how to survive,” Lindlof said. “I understand the balance the governor is trying to strike between lives and livelihoods … but they were definitely hoping for specific guidelines that would allow them to open now.”

Both Picard and Lindlof also wondered about a badge system that will show both customers and the state that businesses are following COVID-19 prevention checklists tailored to different industries, to be posted by Wednesday afternoon on the Department of Economic and Community Development’s website.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, supports the gradual approach and said that having a path forward allows businesses to plan their next steps.

“There may be apprehensions around where or when my place is in that path,” he said, “but at least we know what’s expected and what we need to do.”


Quincy Hentzel, president and CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she was happy to see that, instead of breaking down businesses into essential and nonessential categories, the Mills administration looked instead at ways of conducting business to best safeguard public health.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Hentzel said. “There are ways that we can probably safely open every business, but it’s going to look a lot different than it was before.”

The Portland City Council voted Monday night to extend a more restrictive stay-at-home order through May 18, so some city shops that could open under the state protocols on Friday will have to wait another three weeks. Not all those able to open June 1 are planning to do so.

Austin Miller, who owns Mami on Fore Street with his wife, Hana Tamaki, said his restaurant is small enough that required capacity limits make it impractical to bring back his staff.

“I just don’t think it’s responsible for us to open back up fully,” he said. “I don’t think we can for a while. Our capacity is 30 people, and it’s such a tiny space.”

Miller has been working in the kitchen alone four days a week and said sales have been down 70 percent since he closed Mami to all but takeout. He’s considering bringing back his food truck to try to get sales up to half of normal so he can pay more bills.


He said the only thing that would make him feel comfortable opening again would be more widespread testing and, perhaps, being able to check his staff’s temperatures throughout their shifts. For Miller, it’s about more than business.

“Both my kids have asthma,” he said, “so it’s something I really don’t want to mess around with.”

Landry, the commercial real estate broker, said an interesting idea came out of the question-and-answer period after Tuesday’s official briefing, when Mills was asked about differences between bars and restaurants and possible paths forward. She spoke of outdoor seating being a possible option to ease physical distancing.

Landry thought of European esplanades and dining al fresco.

“Let’s spill out into the street,” he said. “Let’s get away from parking on the street and allow those businesses to convert parking spaces. We can figure out creative ways to break some of these logjams.”

Steve DiMillo is chair of the board at HospitalityMaine, and his family owns DiMillo’s on the Water restaurant in Portland. Like Hewins, he is concerned about the effect the 14-day quarantine will have on tourists. He said Maine innkeepers “are ready to take some action against the state; they really have had their hands tied.”

DiMillo said his family had planned on opening a “fun seafood shack” curbside takeout operation on May 11. They may still do that, he said, and open the restaurant on June 1.

“I have to tell you that this has hit home for us,” he said. “I tested positive. I’ve been sick since April 4 and was tested April 6. I thought I was coming out of quarantine, working my way out of it, and then last Friday I was diagnosed with pneumonia. It’s brutal.”

Staff Writer Meredith Goad contributed to this story.

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