FALMOUTH — For at least the next two months, Falmouth retailers and restaurants can use more outdoor space in an effort to help stem the spread of coronavirus.

The rules —extended unanimously by the Town Council July 20 — allows businesses to use more outdoor spaces, such as on sidewalks, without the usual, involved permitting process. Such accommodations are being promoted to help maintain social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The extension to the emergency business ordinance applies to restaurants and retailers. So far, only restaurants are taking advantage of the change.

“It’s been a lifeblood for us having that outside option for us,” said Gregin Doxsee, the owner of Bueno Loco. “I could hardly vision us surviving, and we are kind of bare-bones now as it is. Even with some indoor space people are still preferring outside. They are responding to the CDC recommendations, and feel outside is a better option. Two-thirds of the people that choose to dine here, eat outside. Some people even have sat in the rain while eating, just happy to be out.” 

Councilor Tommy Johnson agreed.

“The businesses are slowly reopening, people are getting more accustomed to dining in, but people are really using the outdoor dining,” Johnson said.

JP’s Bistro owner John. P. Gagnon said the relaxed rules will help because some customers just won’t dine in.

“We’ve had outdoor reservations moved in with weather, but they will do takeout because they don’t want to eat inside,” Gagnon said. “I’d like to thank everyone for their support and the Town Council. Without that, we’d be licking our wounds a little more.”

So far, Dockside Grill, Ricetta’s and Rivalries are also taking advantage of expanded seating. It’s helpful, Doxsee said, but she’d like to see the ordinance become a new status quo.

“People are going to rethink safety forever,” Doxsee said. “I encourage towns and the state to loosen up in general on dining like this.”

Grant awarded

Councilors on Monday also announced a $90,000 grant to help pay for town expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant is part of a Keep Maine Healthy initiative from FEMA.

“It’ll pay for advertising and notices in the newspaper, banners, (plastic) barriers to help businesses and additional (part-time) staff in town hall,” Poore said. “There is a whole complement of items, too, we will likely spend on between now and October.”

The additional staffer will help maintain capacity limits at Town Hall by monitoring and controlling foot traffic to follow CDC guidelines, Poore said. The part-time position will run for about five months, at 37 hours weekly for $20 an hour, for a total of $14,800.

About $67,000 will go towards public health support and physical distancing, which includes instructional signboards, banners, hand washing stations at public parks, a hand sanitizer station at the food pantry and purchasing personal protective equipment for staff in town buildings.

About $19,000 will be spent on advertising and public education, including direct mailings about COVID-19 protection tips and updates on the pandemic for seniors, similar advertisements in local newspapers and flyers to be included with food distributions at the pantry.

About $4,000 will help businesses reopen through trainings conducted by the town prior to reopening, as well as for safety materials such as posters and pamphlets.

The council also voted to keep Amy Kuhn as the chairwoman and Ted Asherman as vice chairman, and also welcomed new Councilor Peter Lafond, who won an uncontested race July 14.

Pete Lafond, elected in an uncontested race for Town Council on July 14, gets sworn in at the Town Council’s virtual July 20 meeting. Courtesy photo

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