Kim Roth and Angela Searles enjoy iced tea and conversation outside Cia Cafe in Saco on a recent weekday. Restaurants and retail businesses in Biddeford and Saco can apply for permission to serve customers outside, under new temporary rules adopted by the city councils of each of the cities last week. Tammy Wells Photo

Think about enjoying morning coffee, a light lunch or dinner, with a friend or loved one, at a table in the fresh air.

Or how about some “retail therapy” in the open air —as many retail businesses start to reopen.

Restaurant owners and retailers looking to boost sales and gain more visibility in Biddeford and Saco will find it easier to get both, as the cities have each agreed to temporary measures to allow some businesses the ability to operate outside.

That means people will see more outside seating on sidewalks and other spaces outside restaurants, and use of outside space by retailers as they try to provide choices for consumers, whose ability to shop and dine has been hampered by the coronavirus, which prompted state restrictions set forth by Gov. Janet Mills.

In York, Cumberland and Androscoggin counties, dining-in is still off limits due to an uptick in positive tests for COVID-19, Mills has said. Since mid-March, restaurants have been allowed to offer only takeout, delivery and curbside pick-up — but were able to offer outside dining as of June 1.

Now, local municipalities are trying to make it happen expeditiously on their end.

City councilors in Saco on Monday June 1 and in Biddeford on Tuesday June 2 voted on measures that allow seating and retail space on sidewalks and in other private and some public spaces. Each of the communities has enacted rules that have some similarities, but are specific to each municipality. All applicants must also abide by measures set forth by the state.

In Biddeford, the program remains in effect through Oct. 12; in Saco, until Nov. 1.

“This new ordinance will allow our local businesses to find ways to continue operations during this difficult time, but in a safe manner that complies with statewide guidelines,” said Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant in a news release. He added he was looking forward to dining and shopping.

Saco Economic Development Specialist Jessa Berna told the City Council the measure would help businesses remain open and serve the public safely, employing social distancing requirements, and other federal, state, and local mandates.

City councils in both communities unanimously approved the measures.

“It’s great that both Biddeford and Saco city officials have been creatively working to offer new programs and opportunities such as this initiative to help our local businesses during this challenging time,” said Biddeford + Saco Chamber of Commerce + Industry Executive Director Jim LaBelle. “Every effort being made at the federal, state and local level, along with nonprofit and resident-led initiatives, helps to sustain our businesses that have been forced to close or that have been constrained in their operations.”

Outside Cia Cafe in Saco on a sunny day mid-week, friends Kim Roth of Hollis and Angela Searles of Limerick were able to get together for iced tea and conversation for the first time in months.

“I’m so glad businesses are open now and we can do this,” said Roth.

Businesses looking to take part can get in touch with their municipality.

In Biddeford, business owners must submit an application packet with sketches of the planned outdoor area to the Code Enforcement Office. The city manager will have the authority to approve submitted applications after a 24-hour review period by the City Council. If there are objections to the plan, then the application will be reviewed by the council’s Policy Committee. For information or an application go to: www.biddefordmaine.org/outdoorpermit.

In Saco, there are three temporary permits — sidewalk, private parking lot and public parking lot — allowing for expanded outdoor retail and restaurant operations. Applicants are asked to review the overview of each permit and email their application to the Code Enforcement Department at [email protected] Contact Will Rankin at (207) 284-6983 with questions, or: https://www.sacomaine.org/departments/code_enforcement/outdoor_services.php

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