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Sunday River Brewing in Maine reopens (again) in defiance of coronavirus orders

A crowd waited to get into Sunday River Brewing Company on Friday, May 1, in Newry, Maine. Rick Savage, owner of the brew pub, defied an executive order that prohibited the gathering of 10 or more people and opened his establishment during the coronavirus pandemic.
A crowd waited to get into Sunday River Brewing Company on Friday, May 1, in Newry, Maine. Rick Savage, owner of the brew pub, defied an executive order that prohibited the gathering of 10 or more people and opened his establishment during the coronavirus pandemic.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

BETHEL, Maine (AP) — A restaurant owner on Friday launched Round 2 of flouting Democratic Governor Janet Mill’s executive orders over the coronavirus.

Rick Savage reopened his Sunday River Brewing Co. on Tuesday in defiance of the governor’s orders, which allow restaurants to open only for takeout orders until June 1. Savage continued to criticize Mills for not acting fast enough to reopen the state’s economy.

“They don't understand. They think they can take their time and figure things out. Businesses aren’t going to last,” he said.

Rick Savage, owner of Sunday River Brewing Company, spoke with customers at his restaurant Friday after he defied an executive order that prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people.
Rick Savage, owner of Sunday River Brewing Company, spoke with customers at his restaurant Friday after he defied an executive order that prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Savage opened his restaurant for dine-in customers on Friday. He initially said he was undeterred after the state revoked his food and liquor licenses, but had announced Friday evening via Facebook that the restaurant would close for the weekend so he could consult with an attorney.

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He said he’s reopening after determining that his beer-making license wouldn’t be imperiled.

Rick Savage, center, owner of Sunday River Brewing Company, spoke with customers on Friday.
Rick Savage, center, owner of Sunday River Brewing Company, spoke with customers on Friday.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

The state already revoked his restaurant and liquor licenses, but he has said he’ll pay the fines.

Oxford County Sheriff Christopher Wainwright said his deputies won’t be getting involved as long as things are peaceful.

He reiterated that deputies are focused on providing emergency services, not administrative enforcement actions.

A local news station showed footage of workers preparing to welcome customers to the establishment on Tuesday morning.

The restaurant is independent from the Sunday River ski area.

Mills acknowledged the pace of restarting the economy was testing people’s patience Friday as Savage openly defied her executive orders by reopening his restaurant for the day.

Mills assured people that she’s listening to their concerns but warned that there won’t be unanimous agreement on everything as she grapples with the safest path forward during a pandemic.

‘‘There will also be a lot of frustration. I understand that. Yes, and there is anger, and I share that. But let’s keep talking,’’ the Democrat said.

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The first phase of reopening the state began Friday with restrictions lifted on the use of golf courses, visits to the dentist, barbers and hairdressers, and stay-in-your-vehicle religious services. Mainers also were required to begin wearing masks when social distancing isn’t possible.

But Savage used the megaphone of an appearance on Fox News Channel to criticize the governor, claiming she was going “rogue” and wasn’t listening to business owners. He openly shared what he said was the governor’s cellphone number live on TV.

‘‘We’ve had enough of it. We’re encouraging all businesses in Maine to open up. We never should’ve been closed in the first place,” Rick Savage said on primetime host Tucker Carlson’s show Thursday evening.

More than 100 people — virtually none of them wearing masks — gathered early Friday evening for the opportunity to dine inside Savage’s Sunday River Brewing Co.

Dine-in service isn’t allowed in Maine until June 1.

“They’re going to give me fine after fine after fine. I don’t care,” Savage told The Associated Press. “I’m defying the order and staying open.”

Delivering an address Friday in Augusta, Mills didn’t mention the restaurant owner but said that with every decision she has “thought long and hard about how Maine people — and Maine businesses — will be impacted. ”

She said the state’s plan for reopening the economy is flexible, but that it has to move cautiously to balance the interests of struggling businesses and healthcare workers before the summer influx of vacationers from places like Massachusetts and New York, where thousands have died.

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‘‘I will do everything in my power to make sure that this deadly and untreatable virus does not hop a plane, a bus, a truck or a train, an SUV or an RV — and land here and take over our state,’’ she said.

The reopening Friday continued a prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people and the quarantine of all people entering or returning to Maine for 14 days. In addition to restaurants, the second phase, effective June 1, would allow the reopening of retail stores for broader in-store shopping, hotel lodging for state residents, and fitness and exercise centers. Hotels would open out-of-state guests on July 1 under the governor’s plan.

In Bethel, Savage became an instant hero for business leaders advocating a faster pace of reopening the economy.

Town Manager Loretta Powers said she sympathizes with business owners like Savage who are frustrated by the pace of reopening.

“I totally see where he’s coming from because I feel bad for these restaurants. Tourism is our income here. That’s what keeps us going around,” Powers said.

Republican members of Maine’s state Senate also criticized Mills on Monday, saying the phased reopening plan that includes an extended stay-at-home order through the end of the month will cost thousands of jobs and spur economic turmoil.

The charge from the GOP came after some Republican members of the Maine House of Representatives called on Democratic leaders to call the state Legislature back into session to end the state of civil emergency declared by Mills. Republicans in the state have been signalling growing buyer’s remorse since the Maine Legislature gave Mills more powers with a March vote that passed unanimously without a roll call.

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The Senate Republicans said Mills’ decision “could devastate families in our districts” because of the loss of businesses and jobs. They also charged Mills with failing to collaborate with them on managing the response to the outbreak, which has killed 57 people in Maine.

“We must learn to adapt to the new reality that there is now another potentially deadly virus among us with which we must learn to coexist in a way that protects the health of all Mainers,” they said in a statement.

Mills’s office has defended the governor’s plan as the best way to protect both health and the economy.

“Her administration’s goal has always been, and continues to be, to listen to the legislature, both Democrats and Republicans alike, as much as possible amid a constantly changing and dangerous public health crisis,” said Lindsay Crete, a Mills spokesperson.

Meanwhile, the state reported four deaths and 21 more confirmed or likely cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday.

The total number of COVID-19 deaths stood at 61, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control. The total number of confirmed or likely cases stood at 1,226, the CDC said.