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Sunday River Brewing Co. owner says pub will stay open despite fines, losing licenses

Sunday River Brewing Co. (Sunday River Brewing Co.)

Rick Savage, who owns a brew pub in Bethel, has become a hero across America to those who are growing increasingly angry about government edicts that have shuttered businesses to help slow the spread of new coronavirus.

“People are really mad right now,” he said Monday as he vowed to carry on his campaign to reopen Maine.

He said he plans to reopen Sunday River Brewing Co. about noon Tuesday — despite losing his state liquor license for defying state orders to stay closed — because he possesses a federal license to make beer that he says allows him to operate.

With plenty of publicity, including mentions on Fox News, Savage had opened his restaurant on Sunday River Road on Friday in defiance of Gov. Janet Mills’ order that barred establishments from offering customers the chance to dine inside.

When the state pulled his liquor license in response, he shut down again. He said he couldn’t risk losing his federal license as well, but after checking on its status he insists he can serve customers again.

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His initial defiance caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who Sunday retweeted a link from Chicks On The Right, an opinion blog, about Savage’s experience.

“We need a million more Rick Savages,” the blog said.

Trump added that he’s seen “many complaints coming in about Maine” and warning people worried about the coronavirus pandemic not to “make the cure worse than the problem itself. That can happen, you know!”

Savage said he’s still in the fight.

He said it was never about his own business. It’s about everyone’s businesses, he insisted.

Savage said he has plenty of money. He said he could have swallowed losses of $300,000 to $400,000 monthly for a few more months until Mills decided to allow restaurants to reopen.

But, he said, plenty of others in his shoes are dangerously close to shutting down forever.

Savage said he’s heard from dozens of people who are worried they’ll have to close permanently within the next couple of weeks unless government officials recognize they have to put the economy back on track.

He said he figures that up to 99% of the country’s small businesses oppose edicts that keep them closed as a way to make it harder for the infectious disease to spread.

Mills said last week that she understands many people are “angry and frustrated, some losing patience.”

But, she said, “We cannot flip a switch and open up all the restaurants, all the bars, all the souvenir shops and all the motels across the state to do business as usual and risk a more aggressive resurgence of this virus that will only sicken more people, destroy lives and devastate our entire economy for years to come.”

“I believe strongly that the vast majority of business owners across Maine, though they are frustrated about being closed and concerned about their future, I believe that they share an unflagging commitment to keeping Maine people healthy,” Mill said. “I ask them to stay the course. Continue talking, continue listening, continue being part of the solution.”

A GoFundMe account begun by some of Savage’s friends on Friday had raised more than $93,000 by Monday morning to “support those who will face fines and legal fees due to opening early!”

Chicks On The Right declared the GoFundMe “is to raise money to pay the fines they’ll undoubtedly incur and all the legal expenses they’ll undoubtedly have as a result of his courage to fight this.”

Some have raised questions about whether the fundraising violates GoFundMe’s prohibition on efforts to raise money with “the implicit or explicit purpose of or involving the violation of any law, regulation, industry requirement, or third-party guidelines or agreements by which you are bound.”

The fundraising site did not respond Monday to a request to clarify the status of the bid to raise money to reopen Maine and help businesses fighting the state’s orders.

Savage said the funds will be used to help other businesses in Maine, not his.

“It’s not for me,” he said. “I’m not taking a bit of it.”

Savage said it might be used for anything from paying fines to helping a restaurant cover the tab for a food delivery invoice.

He said friends started the fundraiser Friday — initially promoting it with a video of Savage shot by the Sun Journal — and it quickly gained traction across America from people who “are sick of our rights being violated.”

Savage said he plans to continue pressing the need to reopen Maine in every way he can. He said he has a meeting scheduled Tuesday with former Gov. Paul LePage to see how they can help each other in the cause.

He said he hasn’t heard anything from Mills.

Savage said the Mills administration needs to reach out to the business community and get the Legislature involved as well.

He said perhaps small, bipartisan teams of lawmakers could meet with representatives of different business sectors, from restaurants to hair salons, and work with each other to come up with reasonable restrictions that could get establishments open again.

Savage said the status quo, a sort of slow-motion reopening, isn’t enough.

“It’s frustrating and people are not going to put up with it,” he said.

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© 2020 the Sun Journal