Thursday, April 16, 2020

My response to the City of Portland Maine's new curtailment of subsistence-level small business activity

Here's my response to Portland's new curtailment of small business subsistence-level activities.

If you feel inspired to let the City know what you think, please contact the Mayor's Office and the City Councillors.
Contact info here (although please note Councillor Costa's email doesn't work):

April 16, 2020

Dear Mayor Snyder and City Council members:

Today I received an email from the Portland Downtown District which included a link to a new FAQ about Covid-19 related restrictions in Portland. I was confounded by what I read. Suddenly non-essential businesses are not even allowed to ship items to people in need? I would like to know the reasoning behind this extreme override of the statewide restrictions that were being used as a standard.

I also would like to know how the City of Portland is ready to step in and assist its struggling small businesses and sole proprietorships, which are the backbone of Portland’s vaunted creative economy. We have no access to unemployment, and the promised grants and loans are nowhere to be seen. How are we to buy groceries? Pay the rent our commercial landlords are still charging us? Pay the rest of our bills?

Many of us were already stuck in a position where we were making the best of it, sole proprietors singlehandedly scrambling, working unpaid overtime to generate time-intensive mail orders that we then had to struggle to get packed and out the door to maintain even a crumb of our normal incomes, all while maintaining CDC sanitary guidelines. But even though we were working exponentially more to make substantially less money, we said, “It’s better than nothing.” “We don’t want to be a burden on the system.” You decided in one fell swoop to throw us to the wolves, the wolves of hunger, Portland’s wolfpack of greedy landlords, and the ceaseless maw of deeper-than-ever debt.

Why are you punishing us? For what gain? We are behaving responsibly. Unlike the people who, as I write, are littering Portland’s sidewalks with contagious cigarette butts, walking around without masks, behaving irresponsibly and not observing social distancing guidelines in grocery stores and out in public anywhere I’ve had to go on an essential errand?

How is walking to my shop (masked, not touching anything, not getting near anyone) and getting a small amount of fresh air and exercise on the way any different from all the people walking around everywhere? How is my putting an item in the mail any different from a private citizen (which I am as well) mailing something?

I am deeply, deeply disappointed in the actions of the city council (and grateful that two of you at least stood up to maintain sanity). I and other small business owners I know have been more responsible than most. I and my husband closed our shops to the public before the city bothered to begin its own closures, as did all the clothing consignment/thrift shop owners I know. I watch private citizens behaving recklessly all around me while I and my husband struggle. And then we get slapped back by the city, effectively told we don’t matter. The city council didn’t bother to tell us about this itself, or interact with us. Instead of asking how you can help, you have gone out of your way to hurt the bedrock of this city.

Are you going to tell my customers, who were depending on books to help maintain their sanity and educate their children during shelter-in-place, that it’s not in anyone’s best interest to allow safe, responsible business owners to navigate these terrible times? When liquor stores are considered “essential” and books and learning are not?

Tell me why all my pride and love for Portland and all the years of effort I’ve put in to continue to make this a livable city are being thrown back in my face with no justification.

I would like answers to my questions. Please don’t ignore my letter.



Owner, The Green Hand Bookshop


  1. Looks like it worked. You GO girl.

  2. This was just a small scale sign of the times. Whoever's in charge just runs with it. Discussion and collaboration? Ain't nobody got time for that. Glad it all worked out for you.