As statewide mask requirement comes into effect, Triangle businesses prepare for adjustments

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Friday, June 26, 2020
As statewide mask requirement comes into effect, Triangle businesses prepare for adjustments
North Carolina is now the 18th state to have a face-covering requirement put in place. Many businesses are now working to convince customers that it is safe to return.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Governor Roy Cooper's statewide mask requirement officially went into effect at 5 p.m. on Friday, as North Carolina deals with an increase in cases and hospitalizations.

The executive order states that citations can be given to businesses or organizations that fail to enforce the face-covering requirement - but law enforcement cannot criminally enforce it against individual workers, customers, or patrons. It further states, that if a business refuses entry to a person who does not comply with the requirement - and that person does not leave - they can be cited for trespassing.

RELATED: North Carolina's statewide mask requirement goes into effect today. Here's what you need to know.

Seth Gross, who owns Bull City Burger and Brewery and Pompieri Pizzain Durham, is hopeful the requirement could make some customers feel more comfortable returning.

"One of the biggest hurdles we have right now is consumer confidence," Gross said. "We need to get to a place where people can see that we're doing sanitation practices, that we are really keeping things ordering and making sure that people are not elbow-to-elbow. If we can get that consumer confidence with masks, with sanitation, I think they'll be more comfortable coming out on the patio."

Durham had a mask requirement in place since April, prior to the statewide requirement, and Gross says he hasn't faced pushback from customers.

"I rely on most people's good character and being positive about it. I don't like that we have to police -- but at the same time I'm not super concerned," said Gross. So far, he's only opened his restaurants for take-out and outdoor seating.

Gross says capacity limits, coupled with social distancing guidelines and customers leery to venture out, have made it difficult for his businesses.

"How do we get confidence, how do we (make sure people are) safe, and getting back into restaurants. It's the only way we're going to keep restaurants (in business). I'm very, very concerned for independent restaurants like ourselves. I don't know what our future is. We're going to hang on as long as we can. But there is a window, and it shrinks because we lose money every single day. And we will have to close at some point. And that would be terrible after ten years," said Gross.

Gross says owners of independent restaurants in Durham hold weekly Zoom meetings to discuss safety protocols and measures they can take to try and convince customers to return.

Lynn Minges, the President and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, is hopeful the mask mandate will put some customers minds' at ease.

"We need patrons to come back into our establishments and support them. If this is a part of our economic recovery and can help slow the spread, it's overall a good thing," said Minges.

She did not feel the face-covering requirement would have much of an impact on the dining experience.

RELATED: Some Triangle law enforcement officers not issuing citations for state COVID-19 rule violations

While law enforcement has the authority to issue citations when it comes to state COVID-19 mandates, many North Carolina police departments said they're educating those violating the rules instead of citing them.

"I do think the fact now that it's mandated does make it a bit easier to outline the expectation that face coverings will be required in businesses across North Carolina," Minges said.

Amber Brennan, the owner of women's fashion boutique Rose and Lee Co. in downtown Apex, has required staff and customers to wear masks when they enter the store.

"We provide them to any guests that enter who don't have one and do require everyone to sanitize their hands when they're entering," said Brennan.

She opened her business in November 2019, and was one of the first businesses in downtown Apex to shut down.

"It's been challenging. Nobody expects to open a boutique and close their doors three months later. But we've really been able to use it to grow our online business and complete some long-term projects we had on the books, but didn't have time with just the day-to-day operations," said Brennan, who said the closure knocked sales by 80 percent.

In total, her business was closed for eight weeks before reopening in May. So far, customers have followed the rules, and Brennan has even incorporated it into training.

"It is something that we roleplay with our team in how to address those situations with people who aren't as excited about wearing a mask," said Brennan.

She believes the steps her business is taking has helped convince customers to return.

"We've definitely been a lot of people's first outing. We're a small boutique. We limit the number of people in the store. We're sanitizing everything frequently - the clothing, all the surfaces - and just taking cleanliness and all precautions very seriously. And that has benefitted us greatly to be able to get some people who might not be comfortable going to a big box retailer but are comfortable coming into our store," Brennan said.

To learn more about Governor Cooper's executive order, check here.