BOSTON — Retail and restaurant groups are blasting the state's reopening plans that are keeping them on the sidelines during a usually busy Memorial Day weekend.
Beginning Monday, retail stores will be allowed to open for the first time in weeks, but only for curbside pickup and to fill remote orders. Customers won't be allowed inside stores until a second phase of the reopening, which could be weeks away and depends on trends in COVID-19 cases.
As of Memorial Day weekend, stores will be open in every New England state except Massachusetts.
"It's incredibly unfair and disappointing," said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. "They're allowing churches and offices to reopen to the public, but Main Street retailers have to remain shuttered. I just don't understand the logic."
Hurst said retailers are able to open safely with social distancing rules and other precautions. He said some retail operations — such as jewelry, clothing and shoe stores — "just don't lend themselves to curbside selling."
Hurst said the reopening rules put retailers, especially those in communities bordering other states, at a disadvantage after weeks of being closed.
States including Maine, Connecticut and New Hampshire began allowing in-store customer shopping this past week, with varying limits on store capacity.
Darren Ambler, chairman of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, said business owners are growing frustrated over the lack of clarity in the state's reopening plans.
"There's a lot of unanswered questions, especially for restaurants, hotels and others in the hospitality industry," he said. "They want a better idea of when they can open and what that's going to look like for their business operations."
Mall operators, such as Simon Property Group, which owns the Liberty Tree Mall and more than half of the Northshore Mall in Peabody, have been left in the dark about the reopening process, he said.
"They're one of the largest mall operators in the state, and they weren't consulted on the reopening plans," Ambler said. "That was surprising."
Meanwhile restaurants, which were also hoping to be reopen for dining this week, won't be allowed to seat customers until the next phase of reopening.
Bars will remain closed until a third phase of the reopening plan, which could be months away.
The push to reopen has been fueled by public frustration as unemployment soars, businesses struggle to survive closures, and fears of a recession mount.
Massachusetts was one of the hardest-hit states by the outbreak, with more than 90,000 COVID-19 cases and 6,148 deaths, as of Thursday.
Baker said he understands not everyone is satisfied with the pace of reopening, but he is urging patience as the state slowly crawls back to normalcy. He said the state needs to move cautiously as it reopens, or it risks a second wave of infections.
"There's a lot at stake here," Baker said at a briefing in Lawrence Friday. "It's very important to respect the power of the contagion in this virus."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.