Most, but not all are wearing masks, local businesses say

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Many Blaine-area businesses say they’ve seen compliance with customers wearing face coverings in stores since governor Jay Inslee issued a series of statewide mandates in late June and early July.

A July 7 mask mandate required businesses to enforce the use of face coverings in their stores, which followed a June 26 mandate requiring people who are in public and cannot distance more than six feet to wear face coverings in public. On June 8, Inslee required that all employees wear face coverings unless working alone and that employers provide facial coverings to workers.

Ployping Sripakdee, a part-time employee at Chada Thai in downtown Blaine, says the restaurant is only open for to-go orders in a part-outdoor transaction window the business set up to protect employees and customers.

Sripakdee said she only sees a few customers per day who aren’t wearing masks – about 10 percent – and most of them are younger. Sripakdee said she keeps her distance from customers and encourages them to pay by phone so she can put the order by the window and then walk away.

Employees, managers and business owners from six other stores and restaurants say they’ve seen about a 98 percent compliance rate from customers.

One of these people is Drew Sooter, manager at The Market at Birch Bay, who said he’s seen a decrease in customers who aren’t wearing masks since the first couple of weeks of the first mask mandate on
June 26.

At first, The Market at Birch Bay had an employee in the front handing out 30 masks per day but Sooter said those numbers have dwindled to 2-3 per day. An employee is no longer needed to hand out masks and instead, cashiers watch for mask-less shoppers from their checkout lanes.

The number of customers refusing to comply with the mandate, Sooter said, decreased from about five people per day to two per week.

“I think the most challenging thing, regardless of political stance, is all we’re trying to do is go home safe to our families,” Sooter said. “We want to stay safe and for our community to stay safe.”

Sooter said it’s hard to understand why people can’t wear a mask while they shop for half an hour when his employees are working eight to 12 hours per day with their face coverings.

Exemptions apply to people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks and children two-years-old or younger, according to the Washington state Coronavirus response website. Employees are unable to ask about a customer’s medical history or ask for documentation, the mandate states.

Sooter recommends people unable to wear masks due to medical conditions utilize The Market’s curbside pickup services, a sentiment echoed by Bow Wow and Woofs owner Heather Campbell.

But Cody Bowden, general manager at Bob’s Burgers and Brew, said the mask mandate has added additional pressure to his restaurant as 30-40 percent of customers are reluctant to wear masks.

“You’re asking people to do something out of their job description.”

“It hasn’t been fun to mandate things that people don’t want to do. A lot of guests are frustrated,” Bowden said. “Right now, it’s political and it’s hard for a business that doesn’t want to be political.”

Bowden said the restaurant has never experienced this level of pushback from customers, leaving employees in confrontational positions.

“It puts people in an uncomfortable situation that shouldn’t be mandated by the business. I think it should be a recommendation because it’s common courtesy,” he said. “You’re asking people to do something out of their job description.”

The Blaine police department has received one complaint from Cost Cutter that resulted in a man and his wife being trespassed after claiming to have Covid-19 and coughing through the store before threatening to assault the manager when escorting them out, according to a spokesperson for the department. One complaint was filed from a citizen against an unnamed business and the employee immediately took action, the spokesperson said.

Businesses not enforcing the mask mandate can face a fine of $10,000 or more because of a safety and health violation from the department of labor and industries, according to the Washington state Covid-19 response website. People who violate the face covering mandate are subject to a misdemeanor with a fine up to $100 and up to 90 days in county jail, the website states.

Bob’s Burgers and Brew has signs telling customers that face masks are required and the business has gone paperless to reduce contact. Restaurant patrons need to wear masks when walking around the restaurant or talking with staff, but can remove them to eat and drink, according to the mandate.

Natalie Gehringer, owner of New Edge Salon, said the governor’s mandate reinforced what she and her hair stylists were already asking customers to do.

“It got easier because it wasn’t us making the decision, it was the governor making the decision,” she said.

Gehringer said it took clients a few weeks to adjust to the new rules such as appointments and mask-wearing but her salon has since found a new groove during Covid-19.

“It feels really good to be back,” she said. “It’s a slower pace but a welcomed pace.”

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