Shoppers

After the town lifted the outdoor mask mandate on May 21, downtown shoppers in St. Michaels could rarely be seen with a mask on Talbot Street.

ST. MICHAELS — As much of Maryland prepares to shift life back to normal following the official end of the COVID state of emergency July 1, the Commissioners of St. Michaels are planning for a more gradual return to normalcy.

The town commissioners unanimously agreed to lift their mandatory mask policy on May 17 following Gov. Larry Hogan’s statewide order to relax face covering requirements indoors and outdoors. In discussing their next steps at their June 23 meeting, commissioners nodded together in agreement on following the governor’s order for the end of the emergency declaration.

However, the questions of how to best support businesses transitioning back to normal and how to handle the temporary COVID alcohol ordinances ending have kept the Commissioners of St. Michaels busy.

Commissioner Jaime Windon supports ending the emergency order and getting back to normal, but she expressed concern for business owners having to shift back to their pre-COVID operations so quickly. She’s noticed that businesses fall into one of two categories: places that have tents on private property or places that have taken over parking lots.

Windon said she’s talked to many business owners in town, saying that while they all understand that life is moving back to normal, they also think keeping tents and parking lots functioning as additional space is “incredibly essential” to recovering from the loss of business due to COVID.

“I would argue, or implore you to consider that anything that’s not causing harm or any undue stress upon the town be considered to be extended to allow businesses to continue to recover, whether it’s a tent on their private property, etc., for a little bit longer than 30 days,” Windon.

“If it’s been there for 14 months, what’s the harm in taking a few months longer as we work out a season and allow people to recover?” Windon said, adding that she hoped to enact a longer, more generous grace period for businesses to get back to normal.

Commissioner Michael Bibb said that parking should get back to normal, but those businesses with tents should look into applying for permits with the town.

“I don’t have a problem as long as the tents on private property (aren’t) affecting any type of parking,” Bibb said.

Another change coming on July 1 is the end of carryout and delivery of alcoholic beverages, which were services offered during the thick of the pandemic to boost business for local restaurants. However, there won’t be a 30-day extension on allowing to-go drinks to be sold in St. Michaels.

Windon reported that the town hadn’t seen any massive problems with to-go drinks being sold; the main problems were with people walking out of restaurants drinking and people coming off of their boats or out of their homes with alcohol. She added that there’s a large public education component involved with the end of this order, as some have mistaken St. Michaels as being an open container town, which it’s not.

Commissioner Tad DuPont added that much of the public drinking activity will taper off as people adjust to going out again, saying that many get carried away on their first few times out.

St. Michaels Chief of Police Anthony Smith reported that the department will be putting extra manpower towards curbing public alcohol consumption in town. He’s also collaborated with Terye Knopp, owner of Foxy’s Harbor Grille, to plan ways to prevent drinking and walking.

“I’m doing due diligence, my best that I can do in my business,” Knopp said. “We do have signs; it’s a slogan that we use from our St. Michaels Brewfest, (which) says ‘drink it, dump it, because you can’t walk with it.’”

Foxy’s has added trash cans at all the exits, along with security on weekend nights to make sure that customers aren’t walking out with drinks. Michael Morgan, owner of St. Michaels Marina, has also been talking with boaters about drinking and boating.

Natalie Jones is a reporter at The Star Democrat in Easton covering crime, health, education and Talbot County Council. You can reach her with questions, comments or tips at njones@chespub.com.

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