Philly’s coronavirus response

Here’s what can stay open as PA shuts down all businesses that aren’t ‘life-saving’

If places defy Gov. Wolf’s order, they can risk losing permits, licenses and funding.

Shelves at the South Street ACME were pretty well stocked on Monday, Mar. 16

Shelves at the South Street ACME were pretty well stocked on Monday, Mar. 16

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

Back on Mar. 16, the City of Philadelphia ordered all nonessential businesses and government services to temporarily close.

The local announcement was quickly followed by a similar statewide shutdown edict from Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf, which has now been expanded.

From Mar. 19 at 8 p.m. onward, all Pennsylvania operations that aren’t deemed “life-saving” by the state must remain closed.

The list of what has to close is fluid, Wolf’s administration stressed, meaning it could be updated at any time. For instance, the entire construction industry was initially told to shut down, but now there are exemptions for emergency repairs and building health care facilities. Mayor Kenney gave all other Philly construction sites until Friday, Mar. 27, to shut down.

Also, laundromats were at first supposed to shut down, but the governor reconsidered after people noted they were needed to maintaining virus-free clothing.

No end date for the business moratorium has been established. The lockdown is an attempt by officials to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 disease.

If businesses don’t follow the mandate, Wolf said he would use all possible methods of enforcement, which could result in citations, fines, cutting off any state loan, loss of potential disaster relief, or license suspension. For example, if a bar is caught service booze to patrons inside, it could forfeit its liquor license.

How can business owners find out if they need to close? Email the Wolf admin at If you’re seeking an exemption, email

What’s allowed to stay open in Philadelphia

Retail businesses the state has deemed “life-saving” and can stay open include:

  • Banks
  • Post offices
  • Pharmacies
  • Gas stations
  • Supermarkets and grocery stores
  • Mini-marts and “non-specialized” food stores
  • Farmers markets
  • Beer distributors
  • Electronic stores
  • Hardware stores
  • Vets
  • Pet stores
  • Bike repair shops
  • Auto repair shops
  • Laundromats
  • Nursing homes
  • Hotels
  • Funeral homes (aka “death care services”)
  • Rental centers

Restaurants must close dine-in service, but are allowed to take phone orders for delivery and pick-up.

Also, stores that sell any of the following are allowed to stay open:

  • Frozen food
  • Personal hygiene products
  • Sanitary equipment/cleaning supplies
  • Soaps and detergents
  • Medical and orthopedic equipment
  • Medication not requiring medical prescription
  • Household appliances
  • Electrical, plumbing and heating material
  • Hardware and paint
  • Home heating fuel
  • Gas for cars

Some professional businesses and infrastructure services are also permitted to remain open, including:

  • Utilities
  • Transportation services
  • Delivery services
  • Waste collection
  • Security services
  • News media
  • Religions organizations
  • Social services and advocacy orgs
  • Scientific research orgs
  • Health care providers (may not do elective procedures)
  • Pharmaceutical and other chemical manufacturing
  • Plastics, rubber, cement and steel manufacturing

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn story

Find everything you need to know about Philly, every day — in clear, direct language, like a good friend might say.

No clickbait, no cliffhangers: the Billy Penn morning newsletter.

Thanks for supporting Billy Penn!

Test your local knowledge — join us for the next Philly Quizzo virtual event, or take the quiz online.

Lock in your support

Reader support powers our local pandemic reporting. A monthly membership helps lock it in.

Can we count on you as a Billy Penn sustainer?