Retailers in The County reopened Monday. But it will take time to adjust.
HOULTON, Maine — Retail businesses were allowed to reopen in Aroostook County beginning Monday as one of 12 Maine counties where Gov. Janet Mills has lifted restrictions.
Mills had placed the restrictions on business operations after declaring a civil state of emergency in mid-March during the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus illness COVID-19.
But it was far from business as usual in Aroostook County. Many businesses will have to adjust their stores to allow for social distancing and employees and customers will have to wear masks. It will be the first time many of these stores have been able to operate since mid-March.
“I have to say people are moderately cautious, but they’re thrilled to be getting ready to open their businesses again,” Jane Torres, executive director for the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, said. “We’ve been extraordinarily lucky not to have any cases, so I think things have been pretty good here.”
In order for a business in Aroostook to successfully reopen, it must comply with a COVID-19 checklist that was released by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.
It requires all customers and employees to wear face masks, marking six feet for social distancing with tape at checkout counters and limiting the number of customers at a time based on building size, similar to what has been done for grocery stores.
Stores that sell clothing are also forbidden to open fitting rooms for the time being.
The Salvation Army in Houlton is still putting all protective measures in place at its thrift store, but expect to be open at some point during the week, according to Frank Nataluk, who oversees the organization.
“I’m just thankful that [Gov. Mills] said we can open now,” Nataluk said. “She’s allowing us to use our common sense to get back to business.”
In addition to retail, restaurants will be allowed to reopen dine-in services on Monday, May 18, with limited capacity and similar restrictions to those on the retail business checklist.
For Torres, who helps run The Country Co-Op & Farm Store — which offers groceries in addition to dine-in services — it means still pushing for takeout services,but also a “soft opening” of allowing some dine-in service as well as returning to the full range of its menu options.
“I’m just wading through the COVID-19 prevention checklist, and it’s pretty intense,” Torres said. “But I see a light at the end of the tunnel.”