CHATHAM – A tour through downtown reveals that most of the people out and about — and there are plenty — appear to be comply with the board of health's face covering order, which aims to minimize the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
Interviews with shop owners and employees confirm that, with a few exceptions, most people are following the rule. When people aren't wearing masks, most put them on when reminded.
“We haven't had any issues,” said Meghan O'Brian of Where the Sidewalk Ends, “which I was worried about.” When customers have been asked to don masks, they've complied, she added.
“People for the most part are used to it,” said Taylor Brown, owner of Fisherman's Daughter. As in many other stores, customers entering the shop are also asked to use hand sanitizer. “They're kind of getting sick of it,” Brown said, although people are complying.
Compliance hasn't been universal. In the past two weeks, police received three complaints about mask compliance downtown, according to Deputy Police Chief Michael Anderson. There were also two complaints about compliance at Lighthouse Beach. During that time, police handed out 10 pamphlets explaining the town's face covering order. Officers patrolling the downtown area also have extra masks, but did not hand any out during that time, Anderson said.
The health board's order requires face coverings between the downtown rotary and School Street between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. Face coverings are also required at the Lighthouse Beach overlook and stairs and on the fish pier observation deck. Violators risk a fine of up to $300.
State law requires workers and customers at indoor businesses to wear masks if six-foot social distancing is not possible; even if social distancing is possible, the state recommends that face masks in indoors public places.
In many Chatham shops, social distancing is not possible. The small size of some stores also limits capacity, in some cases to less than half a dozen customers. The consequence is lines to get into many shops. During a cloudy day last week, a dozen stores had lines of people waiting to shop; the Candy Manor's line went around the corner, past a vacant space on the corner of Main Street and Chatham Bars Avenue. Most people don't seem to mind waiting.
“People are just excited about being out shopping,” said Marianne Lewis, owner of Violet's.
A few customers who have had their masks pulled down have been asked to cover their noses, and one left when told to wear their mask, but generally “it's been excellent,” Lewis said of compliance. Better than her store in New Orleans, which has not reopened because people are too resistant to wearing masks, she said.
With fewer employees and limited hours, Violet's has made accommodations for long-time customers who are not comfortable shopping around others. They steam clean clothing after someone tries it on, and have noticed fewer people trying things on. It's definitely not a business as usual summer, said employee Crystal Macara.
“We're all just trying to get through summer,” she said. “But we're thankful we have a summer.”
Sandy Wycoff, owner of the Chatham Clothing Bar, Chatham T Kids and Chatham clothing, said she doesn't know of any issues in the shops.
“Although we had one customer come back to return a mask and when told masks were non-returnable he became belligerent and actually posted negatively about us on multiple social media sites,” she said in an email. “Other than that everyone had been great.”
At Soft as a Grape, manager Heather Randall said a few people have come into the store without masks “by mistake” and immediately either left or put on masks. People are also taking advantage of hand sanitizer.
“It's not fun,” she said, “but you have to comply. It is what it is.”
At Yankee Ingenuity, Jon Vaughan created his own sign urging compliance with the mask requirement featuring a cartoon skull and the words, “No mask, no entry.”
“I had to use humor,” he said. “Otherwise it's too disturbing.” Other than a couple of people who left the store after being told they had to wear masks, Vaughan said customers have complied with the mandate.
Patrice Kelly Klark opened A Lon Z in the Colonial Building in late July after spending much of the pandemic in France, where quarantine enforcement was much stricter, she said. “You couldn't go more than a kilometer from your house with a reason,” she said. At her shop, she is very careful to wipe down door handles and other frequently touched items between customers.
“It's very important to me that people feel safe in my establishment,” she said. She hasn't had to ask anyone to put on a mask and makes it clear that social distancing is required. “I want people to be aware of how serious this is.”
One advantage the Ben Franklin store has is that it's near the western end of Main Street, and people who forget masks stop in and pick one up there, said owner Barbara Henderson.