As much as we are all fatigued by COVID-19 talk, my goal for this column is to discuss relevant business topics in our communities and there is no topic more prevalent in our lives. This week I’d like to highlight some separate pieces that may have been reported, but you may have missed because of the crazy days we are living in. These are all good things to keep an eye on as we re-open our local economies over the coming weeks and months.

Under the Know Your County Lines With Maine’s Rural Re-Opening Plan, announced May 8, retailers and fitness centers were able to open May 11 in 12 counties. Restaurants and campgrounds were able to open this week in the same 12 counties. Counties excluded from the Rural Re-Opening Plan are Cumberland, York, Androscoggin and Penobscot.

This can be very confusing for regions that are along those county lines, and arguably no area in the state is affected more than the Bath-Brunswick region. Topsham, Bath, Phippsburg, Woolwich, Bowdoin and Richmond can open these businesses on these dates but Brunswick and Harpswell cannot.

Brunswick and Harpswell restaurants, and some retailers, are still doing curbside services so they’re not completely closed. Indoor dining and outside dining will not be approved for Brunswick and Harpswell until June 1 (should the official notice for Stage 2 be granted for June 1). There seems to be minimal risk that those businesses won’t be allowed to open June 1, but keep in mind the original order did say ‘around’ June 1.

Just Because They Can Doesn’t Mean They Will, At Least Initially

As witnessed last week, just because retailers in the 12 open counties were allowed to open, it doesn’t mean they will — yet. For businesses to re-open there is a checklist of health and safety requirements they must follow. They need to set their businesses up with face guards, masks, sanitation protocols and, most importantly, employees. Re-hiring and on-boarding staff and getting them trained on the new safety protocols can take a little extra time too.

Restaurants are seeing the same things. Topsham Fairground Café did an interview with me last week with Channel 13. During that taping, I heard directly about the numerous changes they’ve been making to distance their seating, servers running their own food, marked pathways for staff in the kitchen to encourage distancing and so forth. That is just one business example, and though they are opening this week, it will take other restaurants longer. Many restaurants have a smaller footprint than the café, which will make distancing the tables more difficult, while some restaurants will be adding outdoor dining which they may have never done before. My best advice is to give a call first or check the company’s website for their hours of operation, or…

…Find Local Business Hours and Re-Opening Info In This Friday’s Times Record

This Friday is the first of at least four consecutive Fridays of the Community Matters page right here in The Times Record. This feature is sponsored by Rusty Lantern Markets, Bill Dodge Auto Group, The Times Record, Priority Real Estate Group and the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber, and it will showcase a full page of businesses who are open and re-opening. Ads are free to place for businesses with a $100 gift card donation to the chamber which will be used on a tree at the 2020 Midcoast Tree Festival in November. Sponsors are covering the advertising costs along with the in-kind partnership with The Times Record. What this means for you, is that every Friday you will get a listing of businesses who are opening and re-opening, and all you need to do is keep reading The Times Record.

Just Because They Can Doesn’t Mean They Will, Part 2: The Employees

Stories are coming out about employees of businesses who are re-opening not wanting to come back. The knee-jerk reaction from some people may be, “it’s your job, you need to go back and support them.” But what if your grandparent lives with you? Or you have a parent with a week-immune system, a spouse who is fighting cancer or a child who is immune-compromised — the decision is less clear, isn’t it? Or maybe this former employee decided that they want a job that’s a bit more income-steady and not reliant on mass numbers of people coming to one place. The bottom line is we don’t know their reasons, and judge not lest we be judged. Yet, it’s a real issue for businesses as they re-open as some of their best staff people may simply not feel safe returning so be ready for that change.

Educate Yourself on Industry Checklists and Guidelines

There are two state departments that get confused a lot, Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD). The basic way to distinguish them is DOL is for all things employment- employment laws, wage & hours law, unemployment, CareerCenters, job training programs, etc. DECD is for everything else business-wise including community programs, Maine Office of Tourism, grants and all other non-employment business issues.

DECD is the department in charge of the health & safety checklists for industry re-openings. You should read those, even if you are not in that industry. Especially if you’re not? Why? So you know exactly what these businesses are doing and what is expected from you as the client or consumer. Things will be different when you go to these businesses and you should familiarize yourself with that. It will answer some questions you may have but also it could put you at ease to see these regulations in place. You can find the checklists for industries on their website at www.maine.gov/decd or see the full plan for the state, including checklists, at www.maine.gov/covid19/restartingmaine

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

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