Tom Turnock first heard about the new St. Joseph County face mask requirement on Monday morning.
Turnock, a third generation owner of Mishawaka Furniture in Town and Country Shopping Centre, recently moved his furniture business from its previous location near MegaPlay to the former Big Lots space by Hickory Road. The opening was originally scheduled for April, but in light of the coronavirus pandemic effectively shutting things down, he had to wait.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced retailers could begin reopening on Monday, but at a reduced capacity and with social distancing and other restrictions in place. On Sunday evening, St. Joseph County Health Officer Robert Einterz announced face masks and face coverings will be required for all people inside businesses and enclosed public spaces when social distancing of at least 6 feet can’t be maintained. The provision will be in place until July 4.
For a furniture store that is nearly 23,000 square-feet, proper social distancing won’t be a problem at Turnock’s business, but being able to provide face masks for customers who ask is a concern for him.
“Finding (face masks) is the bigger issue,” said Turnock. “I don’t know if I can require someone to wear a mask. But I’m certainly going to practice all the guidelines that they have given us as far as that goes.”
The new provision brings up a question for many retailers — who is responsible for providing the face masks, the customer or the business owners themselves?
“The biggest problem that I see is where to get the disinfectants and everything you need to operate a business in this climate,” said Steve Watson, owner of The Blanket Hog store inside the University Park Mall. “If the governor is asking you to have a gallon of hand sanitizer at your entrance, where do you get a gallon of hand sanitizer? … If St. Joseph County is requiring everyone to have a mask, we need to find somewhere to buy a mask rather than pay outrageous prices like you do online right now.”
Jeff Rea, president of the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce and local COVID-19 coordinator, said the Chamber is helping to connect local businesses with organizations and suppliers to get masks and sanitizer.
The county health department will be in charge of enforcement of the new face mask order. The department can issue letters to businesses to try to compel compliance if needed. It’s unclear if fines will be levied, but ultimately the health department could shut down a business for failing to comply, said county deputy health officer Dr. Mark Fox. Local police departments say they won’t be involved in enforcing the requirement and South Bend Police spokeswoman Christine Karsten said the department is simply encouraging people to listen to guidelines from the health department and mayor. She added that business owners will have to help take responsibility for the guidelines, such as asking customers to leave.
In Granger, Pink Pineapple Boutique owner Kelsie Noble said while wearing face masks will be encouraged for customers in her store, she won’t ask a customer to leave if they don’t wear one.
“Personally I’m not going to ask them to leave because I feel like I can be 6 feet apart with social distancing,” she said. “The only time it would be less (than 6 feet apart) would be when they pay, but I would have a mask on as well. I’m hoping that people use their best judgement.”
The women’s clothing boutique located in Heritage Square has been closed since the initial retail shutdown on March 19 and transitioned over to online sales. Noble cautiously admits things have actually been going well for her business.
“Obviously since closing I have been forced to do online sales but the community has been supporting me,” she said. “And the support has been overwhelming so I have been able to be sustained.”
Noble isn’t sure when she will open for in-store purchases, saying the space is in a bit of disarray because she has had to focus on just online sales. She said she will play it by ear and talk with some regular shoppers and other boutique owners about when a good time to reopen may be and what that might look like.
“It gets really tricky because you want people to come shop but you also want to stay safe,” she said. “Clarity in (who is responsible for providing face masks) would be great and I want to be safe — I’m just trying to make the best decision for my business and customers.”
Have you heard?
Hacienda’s Tattoo Taco truck will be out and about today at Central Park in Mishawaka from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can find out where the truck will be on its social media page at facebook.com/TattooTacoByHacienda. As the weather warms up, more food trucks will be hitting the pavement so please reach out if you know of other trucks that will also be opening soon. … Mother’s Day is this Sunday and many local restaurants are offering special carryout options to celebrate the day. You can find what your favorite restaurant might be offering by checking out their social media, websites or by calling.
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