On Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper’s order that individuals wear face masks while in public went into effect.
By Saturday morning, at least one downtown merchant said customers were giving her a difficult time because she was enforcing the rule in her shop.
Melissa Wyatt, owner of Wyatts Trading Post on Main Street, said she had been requiring customers to wear masks in her store since resuming walk-in business under Cooper’s Phase 2 Reopening plan, without too much in the way of difficulty.
Saturday, after the the statewide requirement went in effect, she said things changed.
“It’s almost like a bunch of them came just to show they weren’t going to wear masks,” she said of a stream of customers Saturday morning. She said some of the would-be customers became angry. Some, she said, “just threw their hands up and would leave,” but others crowded the doors so much it was difficult for those in the store to exit while still maintaining social distancing.
Wyatt stood her ground on the issue, though, opting to protect her employers and other customers from possible exposure to the virus.
Amy Slate, owner of Scarlet Begonias, said her experience has been different, though she has not required face masks.
“We are requesting customers wear masks,” she said. “And everybody has been very compliant. Most of my customers have understood we’re all in this together, and this is what we need to do to get things back to normal. Everyone who has been in here has been very willing.”
After being closed for 14 weeks, she said the store is now in its third week of being back open.
“Since we’ve reopened, the mask issue has not been a big deal. I think everyone is getting used to the idea. This is our third week.”
Marty Adams, owner of Mayberry Antique Mall, said he has required customers to wear masks since he reopened his doors, long before the governor issued his order.
Mostly, he said his experience has been the same as Slate’s, with people generally complying without issue. But there have been a few exceptions.
“I had one person who argued with me, said it was his constitutional right not to wear a mask,” to which Adams said he responded by explaining it was the business owner’s right to operate the antique mall how he saw fit, and masks would be required.
“We shut down a week before we were supposed to shut down. When we opened back up we made it mandatory you had to have a mask on to come in.”
Now that it’s mandatory, no one has said anything much about.
Safety behind policy
Adams said his biggest concern with enforcing the state policy, as well as his mandatory mask policy prior to Cooper’s order, is simple: “I don’t want it,” he said of COVID-19. He added that both he and some of his employees may be immune-compromised, which puts them in a high-risk group for serious complications should they contract the disease.
“It may not hurt me, it may kill me, I don’t want to take a chance. I’d rather err on the side of safety.”
“We don’t want to catch it, either,” said Wyatt, adding that some of her workforce is also in higher-risk groups.
That’s why she has gone a step further, limiting the number of people who can enter her shop at any one time more than what’s called for in state guidelines. She’s also put in place policies that limit people from touching and handling collectibles, explaining that constant cleaning would remove valuable surface finishes, but not cleaning would potentially aid the spread of the virus. So, for some items, there’s a simple no-touch policy.
One of the downtown merchants also said they’d received guidance from Lizzie Morrison, Main Street coordinator for Mount Airy Downtown, in which she said under state guidelines it’s possible for business owners to be fined if they don’t enforce the mask policy.
Morrison was not immediately available for additional comment.
Randy Collins, president and CEO of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, said he understands some people’s reluctance, calling the public response to the order a bit of a “mixed bag,” but saying he hasn’t heard of any significant problems thus far in Mount Airy.
“Many of the merchants had already instituted a mask policy in their stores, and had placed signs up asking people to wear masks,” he said.
Collins said enforcing the statewide edict does put some shop owners in a pickle, having to make sometimes uncomfortable requests of customers who are reluctant to comply. while at the same time not wanting to hurt their own chances for a business transaction with customers.
Collins said the chamber has not taken a position on the governor’s order, or on mask-wearing in general, though he said it appears the science behind the idea shows individuals should be wearing masks
“The numbers coming out of Raleigh and out of our local health department … are compelling and concerning. … The public health people think it’s a good idea. I think we ought to follow their advice. … It would be a good course of action for people to follow it (the mask order), to help stop the spread of the virus.”
Adams, of Mayberry Antique Mall, agreed.
”I really think if people wear their mask and social distance, I really think this will help.”