- The Maine Wire - https://www.themainewire.com -

Maine Brewers Guild urges Gov. Mills to relax reopening rules

On Tuesday, Scott Sullivan, head of the Maine Brewers Guild, a nonprofit trade association that represents the state’s craft brewing industry, urged Governor Mills to reconsider her rules for when businesses can reopen this summer. Citing new information that the spread of the novel coronavirus is more limited while outdoors, the guild is asking the administration to allow Maine breweries with outdoor seating to welcome customers back.

The state’s current rules for reopening place breweries in the same category as bars, meaning they cannot reopen until July 1. This is in contrast to restaurants, which will be permitted to serve customers for sit-down service indoors and outdoors statewide starting June 1. The guild contends that this classification was created without regard for the unique offerings of breweries and other establishments with extensive outdoor seating. They argue that these types of establishments can operate as safely as restaurants.

While Governor Mills is allowing restaurants to reopen sooner than breweries, they will still be required to follow state safety guidelines, which directs customers to wear face coverings when not seated at their tables, requires restaurants to space apart tables at a safe distance, and take the name and phone number of an individual in each dining party for possible contact-tracing purposes. If a brewery (or any business for that matter) can reasonably adopt these guidelines, why shouldn’t they be allowed to reopen too?

“One of our brewers basically posed a question. They said, ‘How is it possible that a small, indoors-only restaurant was able to open on June 1 where my business is across the street with thousands of square feet and outdoor service area, and I can’t open until July 1 and someone’s telling me it’s because of public safety?’ It just doesn’t add up.”
— Scott Sullivan, Executive Director, Maine Brewers Guild

This criticism from brewers follows actions taken by the governor last week when, still ruling under a Civil State of Emergency, she decided to push back the reopening of certain personal care services like gyms, nail salons, and aestheticians, even though barber shops have been allowed to serve customers safely since May 1. Even a generous interpretation of these changes would suggest the governor is splitting hairs.

The current situation is dire for many of Maine’s small businesses and the quarter-million people they employ. They are simply pleading for common-sense, something that is sorely lacking from the administration’s current reopening plan. 

Can state officials really say they are following science when they link the safety of reopening with liquor license classifications? Correlating two unrelated pieces of data is not scientific, it is arbitrary. Even the federal government does not distinguish between bars and restaurants. Why does Governor Mills?

The administration has been dogged by accusations that their phased-in economic reopening does not take into account the reality that many businesses are facing. But how can it? No single person, or group of officials, can understand every situation occurring for every business in the state economy. 

The great Austrian economist F. A. Hayek outlined this problem in an article to the American Economic Review in 1945, entitled “The Use of Knowledge in Society” and its lesson could not be more relevant today. Politicians and public health experts wish they could predict and plan the economy, but their hubris is their folly.

It will be difficult for these breweries and other small businesses to attract people back into their establishments, and even more so to thrive in the fast-approaching summer season. State leaders should allow these business owners and their employees the opportunity to make a living again. Let Mainers get out in the sun, support their communities safely, and reclaim their livelihoods. Reopen Maine’s economy as soon as possible.

During the daily press briefing Wednesday with Dr. Shah, Governor Mills addressed this issue, saying that the roughly one-third of breweries with food service licenses, those classified as restaurants, are allowed to open on June 1. Per revised rules announced at the briefing, restaurants in York, Cumberland, or Androscoggin counties will not be allowed to provide dine-in service.