LEWISTON — Restaurants that hoped to reopen for inside dining next week are going to have to wait — and they’re not happy about it.

Gov. Janet Mills said Wednesday that she’s hitting the brakes on the full reopening of restaurants in Androscoggin, Cumberland and York counties because COVID-19 cases are increasing in each of the three areas.

Chick-a-Dee Of Lewiston General Manager, Tom Hird, is angry that the state changed their mind about allowing restaurants to open dining rooms this Monday as he stands in the parking lot of his families business Wednesday afternoon soon after learning the news. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Bill Hird, owner of Chick-a-Dee of Lewiston, called it “horrible news.”

He said it’s not fair to learn just five days ahead of time that plans for reopening will have to wait at least a couple more weeks. Some restaurants may not be around by then, Hird said.

The move is likely to be “a real crusher” for many restaurants in the Lewiston area, said Kate Landry, a co-owner of Fish Bones Grill in Lewiston.

Peter Flanders, owner of Sonder & Dram in Lewiston, posted on social media that Mills “cannot be trusted to inform people in a way that makes sense for business.”


“She has waited several days too long for every decision so far, frustrating people, hurting businesses and in many cases costing people money,” he said.

“I have remained quiet and accepting for everyone’s health and safety long enough,” Flanders said. “This time she has gone too far.”

“We need to open now with sensible rules and nothing more,” he said.

But state officials said they had to act to protect public health.

“Given the trends we are seeing in certain parts of Maine, our administration is revising the plan to align with what is in the best interest of public health,” Mills said.


Instead of allowing dine-in services beginning June 1, the state plans only to allow outside dining with a number of safety precautions.

For Fish Bones, the ability to use its 30 outside seats will help, Landry said, but it’s still “a little frustrating” to find out that’s all they can use.

She said federal loans meant to help businesses keep people employed for eight weeks are about to run out, which is going to make it difficult to stay open.

Landry said her restaurant offers curbside takeout, but it only brings in about a quarter of the revenue that Fish Bones normally makes. Adding outside dining will help, but it is not enough, she said.

“If we can’t get our doors open, there’s no way we can keep our staff employed,” Landry said.

Unless the federal government extends the time period for its Paycheck Protection Program loans or Mills changes her mind, many restaurants, perhaps including hers, are not going to be able to weather the storm.


Brittany Thomasson, service manager for DaVinci’s Eatery in Lewiston, said that while it’s disappointing that restaurants won’t be able to open fully on June 1, she recognizes that it’s important to do what’s best for everyone’s health.

She said she hopes people will come to take advantage of DaVinci’s outdoor patio dining, which would add to the takeout offerings that have brought in about a quarter of the normal volume of business for her restaurant.

Hird said he’s making a bit less than half the sales he usually does with takeout service, but “you can’t live on 50%” for the long haul.

He said he had half his inside tables in storage, masks and gloves ready for staff, and was all set to ensure that dining inside would be safe.

Now, he said, he’s going to have call everyone with reservations and his employees to give them the “total bad news” that everything is on hold again.

Mills said the move “is safer for the health of Maine people and that balances the economic needs of these businesses.”


She did not say how long she might postpone the planned full reopening of restaurants that were supposed to begin at the start of Stage 2 of her administration’s effort to restart the state’s economy.

Lewiston Mayor Mark Cayer said he’s “disappointed for business owners and their employees,” and that the city is doing all it can to support restaurants that are pursuing outdoor dining.

Last week, the Lewiston City Council agreed to relax a number of rules that will allow businesses to take advantage of sidewalks, city parking areas or even parks. The city has also discussed the possibility of closing downtown Lisbon Street for dining on certain occasions, a tactic that was mentioned by the governor during Wednesday’s news conference.

“It’s really challenging,” he said. “It’s really important that we work from now until June 1 to help them utilize that service.”

Cayer also said there are still federal Community Development Block Grant funds available to businesses to help with some of the costs associated with reopening to the public.

In Auburn, Mayor Jason Levesque said he was “upset” and “dismayed by the unintended consequences” of the decision Wednesday afternoon. He said he talked to restaurant owners earlier Wednesday who told him their payroll protection plan runs out next week. He said many have been preparing to reopen on June 1.


Levesque said city officials have been in talks to expand the ability to have outdoor dining, but that closing a street in Auburn likely wouldn’t have any benefit for a string of restaurants. He said given the time constraints he will likely issue an executive order regarding outdoor dining.

In a news release, Mills said the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Administrative and Financial Services will streamline the approval of licenses for restaurants to help expedite outside-only dining.

Retailers in York, Cumberland, Androscoggin and Penobscot counties — which have been closed to indoor shopping — will still be allowed to reopen voluntarily June 1 with strict new health and safety measures.

The state is still reviewing what to do about gyms, fitness centers and nail salons, establishments whose reopening was paused after health concerns arose.

“We recognize this is an incredibly difficult time for the business community, and we will do all we can to work collaboratively to develop solutions that keep people safe and create opportunities for businesses,” Heather Johnson, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said in a prepared statement.

“We believe that is what we have done here, and we will continue to examine similar opportunities moving forward,” she said.


Hird said he hopes it doesn’t take much longer to let restaurants open. He said he followed the best advice from health experts and paid attention to what other restaurants are doing across the country.

But to no avail, he said, since he’ll remain shut down.

“It’s been weeks and weeks and weeks,” Hird said, and just when there was finally a little light ahead, the governor snuffed it out.

Mills ought to “let restaurants do what they do,” Hird said. If they’re not operating safely, he said, nobody’s going to come to them.

Writers Andrew Rice and Kathryn Skelton contributed to this story.

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