Thursday, January 21, 2021

Businesses say most customers abiding by mask mandate

Daily Inter Lake | July 24, 2020 1:00 AM

Aside from a few hiccups, local businesses seem to be adjusting smoothly to Gov. Steve Bullock’s mandate requiring face coverings in public places throughout the state.

On July 15, Bullock issued a directive that “all members of the public wear a face covering…at all times while entering or remaining in indoor spaces open to the public.”

The use of masks to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus has been controversial in recent weeks, and a few altercations between proponents and opponents of mask use have been reported.

“Really, it goes well,” reported Ron Sullens, manager of Ace Hardware store in Kalispell. “People are pretty receptive.”

At the entrance of his store, there is a sign and an employee advising shoppers of the mask requirement, and disposable masks are available for anyone who doesn’t have their own. If a customer refuses to wear a mask, however, Sullens said he’s “not corralling them.

“We’re leaving it up to you, but it would sure be nice if you wear them,” he said. The governor’s directive does not stipulate that those who forgo the masks need to disclose their reasoning or provide proof of a medical condition that prevents face coverings. Law enforcement isn’t obligated to enforce the mandate, either, and noncompliance would mean a fine for the business, rather than any individuals who defy the order.

Before the governor issued the directive last week, Sullens said they saw about 50% compliance with mask wearing at Ace Hardware. Since then, he said mask use has increased to about “99.9%.”

Out of about 1,000 daily customers in the store, Sullens noticed only three people who have walked away when asked to put a mask on before entering.

“You certainly have that right to go shop somewhere else,” Sullens noted. “But they’re going to ask you [to wear a mask] wherever you go.”

Tim Miller at the Army Navy store in Evergreen agreed with Sullens’ assessment.

“It’s been very good. We’ve had no confrontations,” Miller said. “Everyone’s being cordial.”

“We’ve had no issues here in the store,” he said. If an issue were to arise with a noncompliant customer, Miller said the store would simply ask them to leave the business. But so far, he said, “we haven’t had any situations.”

Since the directive went into effect, Army Navy seems to be a little bit slower than usual, but Miller feels it is too early to tell the overall impacts of the mandate. “We’re seeing how things progress,” he said, adding he hoped most customers will “come around” to the requirement.

Gracelynn Abel, a barista at Colter Coffee in Kalispell, said the mask mandate has made life easier for members of the service industry who have been put in the position of defending their own choice of wearing a mask.

Abel explained she opted to wear a mask in the coffee shop prior to Gov. Bullock’s order, and customers used to confront her about her mask much more frequently.

“Before the mandate, I had more confrontations with people who were bothered by me wearing a mask,” she said. Since the governor’s mask mandate, however, she said there have been very few issues. Some customers are “begrudging” about the requirement, but she is thankful “we haven’t had to kick anybody out.”

In her experience, tourists who visit the coffee shop have been especially understanding about the need to wear masks. “They have a different viewpoint,” Abel noted.

Meanwhile, Bias Brewing co-owner Gabe Mariman said the brewery’s loyal local clientele has taken the mask mandate in stride.

“I think by and large our customer base has been appreciative and respectful,” Mariman said. “Our culture cares about the community.”

“We’ve had very few complaints and a lot of people thanking us,” for enforcing mask use among employees and patrons, Mariman reported.

All of the staff at Bias Brewing have received de-escalation training in order to work with customers who are drinking alcohol, so Mariman is confident his staff is prepared to handle any potential conflicts that could arise.

“It’s an adapt-or-die industry,” he pointed out. Even with changing regulations, Mariman is confident “we’ll find ways to make it work.”

It seems to be working well for Bias Brewing so far, since Mariman noticed the mask mandate appears to be helping bring in more customers who were previously hesitant about gathering in public places. It’s good for business, too, since widespread mask use could prevent establishments from being forced to close again, which would be a “worst case scenario” for local enterprises like Bias Brewing.

With the way things seem to be going, Mariman stated mask wearing is “the right thing to do for social responsibility and the right thing to do economically.”

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at (406)-758-4459 or