Local businesses navigate CDC mask update

NILES — Recent announcements from local and national governments regarding masks has business owners across the country deciding how to proceed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that people who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks in many indoor situations.

Laura Hollister, co-owner of Apothica Teas, 222 E. Main St., Niles will not be interrogating guests regarding their vaccination status as they walk in the store. Instead, she is trusting patrons to be honest about their status and to wear a mask if necessary.

“I’ve had six toddlers,” she said. “That means I learned how to choose my battles. When people come in the door, I either have to trust that they’re telling me the truth or know that I can’t possibly know.”

Hollister said she has a cautious clientele that typically prefers to wear masks even if they have been vaccinated. She also said that both herself and her staff are fully vaccinated and that her staff had input on the business’ mask plan going forward.

“After speaking to the staff working upfront, they’re comfortable with me saying that we expect people to wear a mask if they haven’t had their shots, but we’re not going to ask you to prove it or anything. We’re not going to question it.”

Apothica Teas recently began offering a private dining room for guests with medical issues such as immunodeficiency. The private dining room is offered twice per week by appointment only.

“If people have medical issues that make it impossible for them to do in-person dining with the new lifted restrictions, we wanted to offer them some sense of hope and normalcy.”

According to Hollister, she already has eight such appointments scheduled.

“I honestly didn’t think there would be that strong response,” she said. “I wanted it to be available, but I didn’t think there’d be that many people taking us up on it. There really is a demand for that subset that the vaccine is not
helping.”

Hollister feels good about providing the community with a private, safe dine-in experience.

“It gave me the freedom to not ask people the questions on Saturday,” she said. “When you see a large crowd of people coming in, it is what it is. I felt like I am providing an alternative, and it makes me feel good about not worrying about it. It gave me the freedom to not angst.

Like Hollister and many other businesses, Cathy Franz of women’s retail store The Marshall Shoppe, 138 S. Front St., Dowagiac, is figuring out how to handle mask requirements for her store.

For now, Franz and her staff will continue to wear masks in the store.

“I think it might make customers more comfortable,” she said. “If customers come in, and they say they’ve been vaccinated and ask if they can take their masks off, I will be fine with it. I just think that, for the comfort level of the customers, we will probably keep wearing them here for a while.”

While the CDC’s update said people who are fully vaccinated don’t have to wear masks indoors, Franz noticed that the majority of her customers wore masks this week.

“We’re just going to gauge everything on the customers,” she said. “Even now, it seems that peoples’ comfort levels still prefer the use of masks.”

Franz does hope that the loosening of COVID restrictions leads to an increase in traffic for
businesses.

“If anything, I hope it gets people out,” she said. “Even though traffic is improving and the weather is improving, we’re not at the numbers we experienced pre-COVID. So hopefully more people will be comfortable getting out after being afraid to.”

The future is uncertain when it comes to the virus, but Hollister hopes people will be honest about vaccinations as to look out
for others.

“We’re just trusting people to use common sense and be responsible adults,” Hollister said. “I feel like to a certain extent, that’s all you can do.”

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