KITTERY, Maine – Clarification given by the state Thursday classified the Kittery Trading Post as a "non-essential business" under the governor’s recent executive order, but it appears the store will contest that.
Non-essential businesses have been mandated to close, but the Route 1 store had been continuing to operate with reduced hours.
Kittery Trading Post Vice President Fox Keim on Thursday morning said the state was expected to review the store’s non-essential classification that afternoon.
"If we are deemed non-essential, we will close," Keim said. "However, that’s not how we understood it."
Kittery Police Chief Robert Richter said he later received communication from the Maine attorney general’s office advising that the Department of Economic and Community Development’s interpretation of the executive order meant that the Kittery Trading Post did not meet the definition of "essential."
Richter then had a conversation with store ownership, who complied and closed the store by 3 p.m.
However, Town Manager Kendra Amaral said it was her understanding that the Kittery Trading Post is now seeking an exemption from the state to constitute as an essential service. She did not know how long that process would take.
Keim could not be reached for further comment Thursday evening.
On Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills ordered all non-essential businesses to temporarily close to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Her executive order includes a list of services currently deemed essential, and businesses can also apply for an exemption if their services are not included on that list.
The Kittery Trading Post – selling outdoor recreation equipment, apparel, footwear and firearms, among other products – is a major southern Maine tourist destination. It’s near the 120 stores of the Kittery Outlets, which have all closed at least through March 29. The corridor typically sees 3.5 million visitors annually, according the entity that owns the outlets.
In a statement Thursday, Kate Foye, spokesperson for the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said, "Kittery Trading Post has been deemed a non-essential business under the executive order. While we recognize the difficulty and inconvenience this creates, the intent of the order is to protect the health and safety of Maine people and to mitigate the spread of the virus. The Department of Economic and Community Development will do all it can to support Maine’s small businesses who are closed during this difficult time."
Amaral expressed concern this week that many of the license plates in the Kittery Trading Post parking lot are from out of state – and states with higher rates of COVID-19 infection.
On Thursday, she said, "If they are deemed non-essential, we will take the action necessary to make sure they close down."
The Kittery Trading Post on Wednesday took to Facebook to outline health and safety precautions the store has taken in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
While Mills has prohibited social gatherings of more than 10 people, the Kittery Trading Post implemented a policy of no more than 100 customers in the store at once.
A summary of the precautions on the KTP’s Facebook page included curbside pickup, hand sanitizer in multiple locations, frequent sanitization of high-touch areas, and increased signage. KTP wrote it has also implemented crowd control procedures by limiting the number of customers in the store to no more than 100 at a time, closing all fitting rooms, and placing signage around the store to remind customers to stay six feet apart.
The store also closed its south entrance – directing customers to the north entrance and its parking lot – and increased the hourly rate for all employees by $3 per hour during the state’s civil emergency. Daily hours had been reduced to 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Section 5 of Mills’ executive order details enforcement measures can be taken "by any government department or official that regulates licenses, permits or any other authorization to operate a business or occupy a building. A violation of this order may be construed a violation of any such license, permit and other authorization to which pertinent penalties may be assessed."
The order can also be enforced by law enforcement if necessary, it states.
LL Bean and Cabela’s, selling merchandise similar to the Kittery Trading Post, voluntarily closed before Mills’ executive order. Cabela’s is currently offering curbside pickup.