Portland will not enforce restrictions that prohibited nonessential businesses such as retailers from shipping orders or offering curbside pickup under the ongoing stay-at-home order.

The City Council endorsed that position during a workshop Monday. Those restrictions were part of the city’s stay-at-home order announced March 24, which closed nonessential businesses to the public, and the council had upheld them at two meetings since then.

The issue did not attract significant input from the public until Portland issued a list of “Frequently Asked Questions” about the order on Thursday. That list explicitly said businesses could not offer curbside pickup or ship orders. Councilors said Monday that they have received hundreds of emails objecting to the restrictions.

City leaders quickly walked back their position Friday and said the rules would not be enforced. The City Council then held an emergency workshop Monday night to discuss the issue. All nine councilors agreed that the city should not enforce the existing restrictions for the time being, and they signaled that they would formally change the language at their next official meeting, next Monday.

“We have to stay open-minded, and we have to stay willing to pivot as we make our way through the days,” Mayor Kate Snyder said.

The confusion comes to a head as government officials nationally and in Maine face questions about when it will be safe to lift restrictions on businesses and daily life.

Monday’s workshop did not include a formal vote or a public comment period. But councilors said they received hundreds of emails and thanked people for their input.

“This is how democracy works,” Councilor Tae Chong said. “When we get feedback from people, we listen.”

Multiple councilors emphasized that this policy shift does not mean all nonessential workers can go back to business as usual. They discussed implementing protocols across the retail industry to prevent the spread of coronavirus, like requiring workers to wear masks and gloves while packaging orders. Those ideas are likely to be part of the debate at the meeting next Monday.

Since the stay-at-home order took effect, Councilor Belinda Ray twice proposed changes that would have allowed businesses to fill orders for shipping, no-contact delivery or curbside pickup. The state’s stay-at-home order does not include the same prohibition on those activities. A majority of councilors rejected those proposals first on March 30 and again on April 14.

Ray said she would offer the same amendment again, but did not criticize her colleagues for opposing it in the past.

“They were voting in favor of public health,” she said.

Several councilors who rejected her proposals in recent weeks said they stood by those votes. But they acknowledged that many local businesses have been filling orders because they chose not to comply or did not realize the city’s order prohibited those activities.

“I think what we’re seeing is the perfect storm where the federal government has failed at helping small businesses,” Chong said. “We know lots of people need to pay their bills, but the support isn’t there for people to stay home. At the same time, people have been being very entrepreneurial and selling whatever products they need to survive.”

Portland’s stay-at-home order expires next Monday, so the council also will be deciding at their meeting whether to extend it. The city’s restrictions are in some ways more stringent than those in the state’s stay-at-home order.

“These are emergency actions, and we had had to make and remake these decisions based on the data available,” Councilor Jill Duson said. “So our order has to be open to changing.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: