Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday gave florists, as well as many other "non-essential" businesses, a green thumbs up to bring back a limited number of employees to fulfill online and phone orders for delivery, as long as they follow proper safety measures and keep the doors locked to customers.
The updated guidance comes just ahead of Mother's Day, which is a major event on the calendar for many garden and flower businesses.
Retailers Association of Massachusetts President Jon Hurst has been making a hard push over the past week to get the Baker administration to relax its essential businesses order to allow fulfillment centers and other retailers categorized as non-essential, including bookstores and jewelers, to work in locked store fronts.
"If you want to pick up flowers for mom, what are you supposed to do? Go into Stop & Shop? How does that make sense from even a health standpoint?" Hurst asked last week.
RAM presented for Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito's advisory committee on reopening the economy on Wednesday and requested that the administration not wait until its full recommendations are made on May 18 to relax these rules.
On Monday, the retailer's request was granted.
The administration quietly updated its essential services guidance to allow a limited number of employees of florist shops and other businesses to reenter closed stores and warehouses to fulfill and ship orders taken over the phone and online.
The new guidelines require these stores to remain closed to the public and limit operating hours to allow for sufficient off-hour cleaning. Employees must wear face coverings and stay at least six feet apart from one another, and all deliveries must be "no-contact" deliveries to consumers.
The guidelines also limit the number of employees that can work at a given time, starting with three in a business smaller than 10,000 square feet and growing to seven in a facility with more than 30,000 square feet.
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Employers must also require workers to self-administer temperature checks before their shifts, and not report to work if they have a fever over 100 degrees.
"(Three) yards in a cloud of dust. Just keep trying for that next first down as the goalposts keep moving farther away," Hurst emailed Monday night, using a famous football metaphor to describe how small businesses must just keep scraping to survive the pandemic.
The updated essential business guidelines also made new allowances for car dealerships, allowing for sales to resume over the phone or online and for dealerships to follow the same remote fulfillment rules as other retailers.
Test drives of vehicles are not permitted, and all processing of documents should be done electronically, if possible, the rules said.
Dealerships must remain closed to walk-in customers, but transfer, delivery and return of new and leased vehicles or trade-ins can be conducted in person by appointment.
Winston Flowers, one of Boston's most well-known florists with multiple locations in the city, went so far as to advertise last week that it was reopening for the week of Mother's Day, only to be told by the city of Boston that it must remain closed because it was a non-essential business.
The company had made plans to assemble orders in its design studios with a board-certified nurse on hand to monitor all team members' temperatures at the start of each day and for employees to work with personal protective gear in socially-distanced workspaces.
"We will probably need to shut down our business after being a part of the community for 75 years and giving back millions of dollars to local charities through partnerships. We have lost all of our wedding, hotel, and retail business," owner Ted Winston told the News Service after being told it couldn't open.
Baker hinted last Thursday that a change like this could be coming, but did not mention the actual change during his press briefing Monday. Neither did Polito when she provided an update on her group's activities.
The governor's order closing most brick-and-mortar retail stores to control the spread of COVID-19 had been the strictest in the country, according to Hurst, preventing many businesses from fulfilling online and phone orders when even states like New York were allowing one employee to work in a locked store.
"We'll have more to say about that one … in plenty of time for Mother's Day," Baker said last Thursday when asked about flower shops.