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‘Disappointed and Confused': Retailers Say Mass. Reopening Plan Defies Logic

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, criticized Gov. Charlie Baker's plan on Tuesday

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The president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts criticized Gov. Charlie Baker's plan to reopen the state Tuesday, saying it's "nowhere near" what other neighboring states are doing.

"We're disappointed and we're confused," Jon Hurst said during a Small Business and the COVID-19 Crisis webinar hosted by NBC10 Boston's Brian Shactman.

The governor's plan allows retail outlets to open for curbside pickup and remote fulfillment, but not until Memorial Day. And in-store retail is slated for phase two of the plan, which could be another three or four weeks away.

"We thought we were supposed to be moving in concert with other states in our region," said Hurst, whose organization represents 4,000 businesses. "We are nowhere near what the plans are already throughout New England but also in New York."

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, he said retail stores will be open in every single New England state except for Massachusetts.

"The fact that we're so late, we're really like two steps behind our competitive states," Hurst said. "We just don't understand either the economic logic behind it or the scientific logic."

Some owners of bars and restaurants were upset to learn Monday that they would have to wait longer to open.

He pointed out that Massachusetts is just now looking at curbside for retail, which occurred on day one for restaurants. He said New York and New Hampshire have allowed curbside retail business since late March, "and we're just now getting to it on Memorial Day?"

"The fact that we are so far behind is curious," Hurst said. "We're doing it differently than like in New York. We're actually having barbers and hair salons open in phase one and not stores. In New York, it's the opposite."

"We have churches opening and offices. Why is an office building safe at a certain percentage occupancy and not a small store? It just doesn't make sense."

He said he expects to see more residents traveling to neighboring states now that restaurants and stores are reopening in places like Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

Summer on Cape Cod will look different this year amid the coronavirus outbreak as hotels and restaurants remain closed throughout the state.

Restaurants in Massachusetts are also not slated to open until phase two.

"I think you are going to see some more migration," Hurst said. "I think that was not the objective that we wanted to get to, as we wanted to work together."

He said Memorial Day weekend is a big weekend for many businesses, especially in areas like Cape Cod. And he doesn't understand why many of these "mom and pop" operations couldn't be allowed to reopen when social distancing is much less of an issue there than it is at a hair salon or large retail store.

The retailers association had a board meeting Tuesday, and Hurst said right now "there's a lot of confusion, a lot of fear." He said many small businesses have been closed 10 weeks with no sales and aren't sure if they're going to be able to survive.

"They're at the end of the rope ," he said. They still had to pay rent, they had to pay buyers for the inventory they're prohibited to sell. They are facing not only business ruin but personal financial ruin. I'm so incredibly crushed they've had to go through this."

Houses of worship are allowed to open their doors in Massachusetts but with restrictions.

Hurst said some have suggested his association should take legal action against the state, but he said it's more likely that an individual business would do that.

Already on Tuesday, The Boston Globe is reporting that a group of North End restaurateurs is considering its legal options.

Hurst said a survey of his association showed that 30% of members are fearful they may never reopen. And even those members that run essential businesses and were allowed to stay open aren't doing that well.

"Go out and take a look at your Main Streets this weekend, Memorial Day weekend," he said. "They're going to be shuttered, they're going to be dark storefronts. If we can't get them open, that's what they're going to see in the future. And that's a frightening, frightening picture."

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