Shawn Garrity of Arundel staples a sign of support for the Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel before the restaurant opened Tuesday morning.  Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

BETHEL — As about 15 people lined up Tuesday morning to enter the Sunday River Brewing Co., Ron Savage, a co-owner, told his customers “things are happening” in Augusta that would result in changes to state policy beginning Wednesday.

Savage said the brew pub, which landed itself in hot water for opening last week in defiance of shutdown orders issued by Gov. Janet Mills, would be able to get its liquor license back.

It is possible he is right about looming changes to state policy, though the governor’s office did not respond to questions about it.

State Sen. Lisa Keim, a Dixfield Republican, said there is talk of easing the restrictions soon that were imposed to control the spread of COVID-19.

“A little bit of movement is coming,” she said.

State Sen. Nate Libby, a Democrat from Lewiston who serves as majority leader, said lawmakers and the governor have been talking regularly about reasonable steps that can be taken to allow more openings without endangering the public. He said there are business sectors that have sought to demonstrate they can meet high standards for safety if they’re allowed to reopen.

“There’s an important conversation there,” he said.

Keim said Mills may loosen guidelines for some businesses, including restaurants, some gyms and campgrounds.

“It’d be great if she made that announcement Wednesday,” Keim said.

She said she has been hearing constantly from constituents who are frustrated, worried and upset.

In Bethel alone, she said, four restaurants are never going to reopen. Other businesses may join them if something does not change soon, Keim said.

“Lives are being destroyed,” she said, as businesses that people have poured their time and money into for years falter and fail in the face of the economic shutdown.

Keim said she was worried, too, about the stress so many are feeling and about delayed health care and other necessities.

She said she understands the desire to protect people from the coronavirus, but it is important society weigh many factors, not just a desire to help prevent the disease, as rules are established to deal with the threat posed by the pandemic.

Keim said people such as Rick Savage, the other co-owner who has pushed reopening in many interviews lately, have a value because they are “willing to take it on the chin” to pursue changes that others perhaps accept too easily.

People like that, she said, “end up pushing the envelope to make things happen.”

Outside the brew pub, Ron Savage was assuredly pushing the envelope.

Noting that some of the waiting crowd stood closer together than social distancing rules allow, Savage pleaded with them. “Do not let the media see you not social distancing. Six feet, please!”

Then he spotted a Sun Journal photographer and ran toward her screaming for her to get off the property. He called the newspaper “corrupt media” and insisted he would have anyone from the paper arrested if they didn’t depart. He repeated the threat to the paper’s reporter after asking what outlet he worked for.

Both left quietly while Savage called the Sun Journal’s editor to complain about their presence, though one had been invited to come by the other owner.

Earlier, two of the waiting customers talked about why they had come to the brew pub that’s become a symbol of the resistance to Mills’ orders to keep some businesses closed in a bid to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, first spotted late in 2019 in China.

Larry Hilt of Poland said he came “to get something to eat” and show his support for the establishment that has made national news since Rick Savage appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News to declare his defiance of the governor.

Hilt said he agrees that steps are needed to try to keep people safe from the virus that causes COVID-19. But, he said, Mills “could do better” in setting the rules.

“There’s a lot of small towns” in Maine, he said, and many of them only have one or two little restaurants. They don’t even have cases of the disease, he said, and ought to be allowed to operate more normally.

“Let the people have their breakfast,” Hilt said.

Another customer, Shawn Garrity of Arundel, put a sign on the back of his truck calling for Mills to “give us our state back!!! Your plan sucks!!!”

“I just came to support” Savage, he said, “have lunch and support.”

It is not clear what plans, if any, may be in the works in the state capital for revisions to the orders related to small businesses and restaurants.

A woman who came to the door of the kitchen at the restaurant, who did not give her name, said it did not plan to sell any alcohol Tuesday because of issues related to its state license. She also said the kitchen was having trouble finding staff because some did not want to return to work, and give up their unemployment payments, until conditions were safer.

The state issued two more citations Tuesday to the Sunday River Brewing Co. for violating state rules.

Maine’s Health Inspection Program last week cited the Bethel brew pub for “operating in a non-compliant manner and issued a health code violation and temporary suspension of its license to serve food,” said Kyle Hadyniak, director of communications for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

On Tuesday, when the restaurant reopened again, health inspectors and the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations issued two more citations for failing to comply with state rules.

As a result, Hadyniak said, Sunday River now as three citations and temporary revocation of its health license.

Moreover, “any establishment operating in a non-compliant manner subjects both their health and liquor licenses to review and potential suspension and revocation,” he said.

Customers wait in line while maintaining social distance before entering the Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel on Tuesday morning. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

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