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Under pressure

| August 1, 2020 1:09 AM

Businesses divided on enforcing mask mandate

While the Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association says it strongly encourages patrons to wear face coverings, businesses say they’re still experiencing a high level of unmasked foot traffic.

Despite last Thursday’s mask mandate by Panhandle Health District, there has been a lack of cohesive enforcement by county officials and residents. According to the mandate’s language, “every person in Kootenai County is required to wear a face-covering that completely covers the person’s nose and mouth when the person is in a public place and physical distancing of 6 feet from others cannot be maintained.”

These public places include retail businesses, government offices, medical, education, arts, and recreational institutions, public transportation, and outdoor public areas.

With Facebook pages like “Kootenai County Residents Against Mask Mandate” gaining more than 2,600 members in one week, some business owners feel they’re being put in an uncomfortable position as public enforcers.

Some industries such as restaurants, health care facilities, and the beauty industry required more safety precautions before the pandemic.

For the Pure Salon and Spa and Bulwark Barber Shop, the mask mandate is just another day at work. With the beauty industry requiring more serious touching, employees are accustomed to rigorous sanitation precautions.

Rochelle Farley, 37, who moved to Coeur d’Alene four years ago, has worked in the beauty industry for 18 years.

“When we came back to work after quarantine, we chose as a company to continue wearing masks as we had done previously,” Farley said. “Since we work within 6 feet of people, we just wanted to do our best to keep our employees and customers safe.”

According to Farley, when Pure Salon and Spa resumed business in May, they didn’t see many other salon employees wearing masks. After receiving harsh criticism and losing some customers early on, Farley said business is looking up.

“Now for every customer that we lost we probably gained two to three more because they found out we were being safe,” Farley said. “I think people are starting to recognize that it is important.”

Paul Nemec, 32, from Coeur d’Alene, is a senior barber at Bulwark Barber. At Bulwark, the employees took it upon themselves to wear masks and have always taken sanitation seriously.

“We have a policy within our shop that if you’re not 100%, don’t come. That’s not in regards to COVID, that’s any day,” Nemec said. “If you get us sick then we’re all out. All of us have bills, lives, and families, so all of us can’t afford to not work.”

Being rated one of the cleanest and best-rated barbershops in Coeur d’Alene, Nemec said clients trust their stylists.

“All of our customers and patrons know that we take safety seriously,” Nemec said. “We all agree this should be a mandate for restaurants and bars, but this is an industry with an already high level of sanitation.”

Food is a different story. Being a major tourist area, Coeur d’Alene eateries and watering holes are on high alert for possible contamination. While some restaurants have received positive feedback from customers, others have not.

Morgan Branch, 26, from Coeur d’Alene, is the manager at Bean and Pie. Bean and Pie, which has a sister location in Sandpoint, has required masks for staff since the middle of June.

“We have a lot of customers who appreciate the fact that we have masks. We even have people who come here specifically because we do,” Branch said. “I’d say out of 90 to 100 customers a day, maybe two to three people have a problem with the masks or have a health condition and can’t wear one.”

The Crown and Thistle Pub has not been so lucky. According to employee Candra Shanks, 26, who has lived in Coeur d’Alene for four years, negative online reviews have skyrocketed because of their mandate.

“People have been sharing the restaurant as one more place to never go because we’re tyrannical and we’re taking freedoms away,” Shanks said. “One woman who doesn’t even live in town said our wings suck, but we don’t serve wings. So we’re running a special for wings this week in honor of her comment.” (See Jennifer Drake’s My Turn/C1)

Customers at The Crown and Thistle order at the bar, so management is asking people to wear a mask if they’re not at their table.

“We order at the bar so they wear them in, order, sit down and take them off,” Shanks said. “It’s just like every other restaurant that is requiring masks like Moon Time or whatever.”

Hudson’s Hamburgers, a hometown favorite, has been greatly restricted by COVID-19 due to its small storefront and minimal seating.

“Normally we already have such a small capacity, so only being able to have eight people at a time, keep parties 6 feet apart, and micromanage people who come in and out is hard,” said Dawson Williams, 29, stepson to fourth-generation owner Todd Hudson. “Regulating the line at the door is impossible because it agitates people when we ask them to space out.”

According to Williams, Hudson’s is simply following the rules so it can keep grilling.

“Some people are negative toward us because they think we’re anarchists or libertarians,” Williams said. “If they want us to be open, then we have to require masks.”

While some locations are taking a stand on masks, others are more lenient.

Virtual Reality Coeur d’Alene allows customers to choose masks at their own risk, while employees wear masks to protect others. With the large space between gamers, manager Colton Hoffman, 26, says they aren’t too concerned.

“In their VR station they are 10 feet away from everybody, so I’m not worried about it. They are in their safe little bubble,” Hoffman said. “We wear our masks but I’m not going to require customers to do so.”

Owner of the Fern Plant Shop, Alex Ekins, recently launched a new location in Coeur d’Alene after success in Washington. Washington’s mask mandate requires all people to wear face-coverings inside any building or public setting, establishing a more coherent policy.

“When you mandate something but people openly express they won’t enforce it, you are causing divisions in society and placing the obligation of that division on a business owner,” Ekins said. “To place the enforcement of masks on a small business is another hindrance to our capacity to function effectively. If the state or the city wants that to be a requirement, then the authorities need to be the ones regulating the wearing of masks.”

Ekins believes the lack of clarification makes it harder for a business owner to offer people comfort while shopping in his store. All of the staff at Fern wear face masks and Ekins trusts customers are informed of the health district’s guidelines.

“We want all of our customers to be safe and happy, and we will do anything it takes to make them safe and happy,” Ekins said. “As a business owner, I welcome everyone and I mean that. I don’t screen people’s opinions or political dispositions before they become my customer, nor do I think I should. This is a plant shop and people are here to talk about plants.”

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The Crown and Thistle Pub requires patrons to wear masks while ordering, and offers customers disposable masks at the door.

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The Crown and Thistle Pub awares patrons of their mask mandate with signs outside the door. (MADISON HARDY/Press)

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Hudsons Hamburgers encourages patrons to keep their distance while waiting to order with a sign outside the door. (MADISON HARDY/Press)