A sweatshirt caught the eye of a man looking in the Exchange Street window of Lisa-Marie’s Made In Maine gift shop in Portland. He was not allowed to enter the store, however, because he didn’t have a facial covering.

Undaunted, he got the attention of store manager Marie Stewart Harmon, who rubbed her hands with sanitizer and brought the sweatshirt out to the sidewalk. He liked it, handed over his credit card and Stewart Harmon returned inside to complete the transaction.

“It took just that extra moment of patience on his part and on our part,” she said. “That’s our goal, to be kind and be patient with each other.”

A poster for the Let’s Be Kind campaign launched Thursday by Maine retailers. Photo courtesy of the Let’s Be Kind campaign.

Unfortunately, not every customer in Maine is as understanding and patient. Retailers throughout the state have encountered angry, hostile patrons who’ve refused to follow restrictions designed to prevent community spread of the coronavirus, such as wearing a face covering and maintaining a 6-foot distance from others.

That’s why three large retail trade groups launched a statewide public awareness campaign Thursday to encourage patrons to practice kindness and respect toward workers and each other while observing precautions designed to halt the transmission of COVID-19, the disease caused by the ccoronavirus. The retailers are not out to anger or offend anyone who may believe face masks and social distancing are signs of government overreach. They simply want customers to be nice and keep themselves and others safe.

They’re calling it “Let’s Be Kind” and including a tagline that reads “Doing Business Differently Helps Keep Maine Safe.” Together, the Retail Association of Maine, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association represent thousands of Maine retail businesses, all of them operating under state guidelines that generally require masks or facial coverings when out in public.


Of course, not everyone complies with the mandate.

Mary Allen Lindemann, co-founder of Portland-based Coffee By Design, said her four coffee shops have remained open for curbside service throughout the pandemic but have yet to open their doors to in-store service. Some customers have seen workers inside and demanded entry.

“We’ve had people say, ‘This is stupid, this is dumb, just open the door,'” Lindemann said. “They think it’s a political statement we’re trying to make.”

Lindemann empathizes. People are tired of the pandemic. Summer has arrived. Restrictions are being lifted on restaurants and stores.

“They want things to be back to normal,” she said. “We all want things to be back to normal. But we as small business owners really know our staff, so please trust us. We believe in great customer service and we really want to serve you, but at the same time, we want to be sure we’re taking care of ourselves so we can serve you.”

The campaign will include posters, a social media blitz and, beginning July 6, television advertising throughout the state. Customers are urged to plan ahead because transactions may take a bit longer, to take precautions by wearing face coverings and to respect social distancing guidelines of at least 6 feet from workers and from other shoppers.


“We all have the recognition that while businesses have reopened, it’s not business as usual,” said Curtis Picard, president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine. “We’ve heard stories here in Maine where customers have been overly aggressive or even belligerent. We just want people to know that retailers are trying to do the best they can to comply with guidelines and to keep customers safe and employees safe.”

Christine Cummings, executive director of the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association, said grocery clerks and others responsible for keeping the food supply chain operating throughout the pandemic are owed a debt of gratitude. Instead, some receive harassment if they ask customers to wear a mask or maintain safe social distance.

“I think some folks are taking (mask-wearing) as a political statement when in our opinion it’s not a political statement, it’s an opportunity for people to be good citizens,” Cummings said. “It might not help you, but it could protect other shoppers or the folks working in the store or their families. We certainly don’t want to see any spikes or resurgence (of the virus), which would certainly cause the administration to examine what other precautions we need.”

Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, hopes the campaign will serve as a reminder that precautions are still necessary, even though the weather is warmer, more people are moving around and certain restrictions are being lifted.

“I think there’s a false sense of security or safety,” she said. “People might think the pandemic is long behind us now and we’re out of the woods, but we’re not. Maine might be doing better than other parts of the country, but we’re still in it. This is just one of those reminders to pause for a moment, be kind, be respectful, and remember it’s not just you out there.”

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