Better-safe-than-sorry Manitoba businesses find plenty of support Some cautious entrepreneurs hit with mostly faceless pushback from abusive anti-maskers

From angry phone calls to cruel posts on social media, some Manitoba businesses are facing abuse for sticking with face masks despite the end of provincial COVID-19 restrictions.

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This article was published 17/03/2022 (437 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

From angry phone calls to cruel posts on social media, some Manitoba businesses are facing abuse for sticking with face masks despite the end of provincial COVID-19 restrictions.

But store owners who still require staff and customers to wear masks — for now, at least — say the feedback from Manitobans has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive.

There has been a little bit of pushback, mostly from faceless online trolls, suspicious accounts or people who aren’t regular customers, they said.

A Muse N Games owner Brian Mitchell will still require masks at his store. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Some have vowed never to return, and some anti-mask types have left negative online reviews even though they’ve never been customers. Owners are standing firm, saying supporters far outnumber critics.

“We’ve been review-bombed by one person, who clearly never shopped in our store,” said Brian Mitchell, owner of A Muse N Games, a hobby store in Winnipeg’s West End. “They review-bombed 30 businesses, which I’m very happy to be in the same class as.”

More than 50 Manitoba businesses are still requiring staff and customers to wear masks after the province lifted its mandate and all other remaining public-health orders aimed at preventing spread of the virus Tuesday.

Mitchell said he may reconsider his policy once COVID hospitalizations “dwindle” and community-transmission rates drop.

“We’ve always gone with an abundance of caution,” he said. “We’ll do what’s best to have our customers feel safe and secure.”

La Belle Baguette owner Alix Loiselle used social media to announce his plan to continue with masks at his two shops in St. Boniface and St. James. He deleted an Instagram post after it was hijacked by anti-maskers.

“Someone compared me to Vladimir Putin. Someone said they hope I get hit by a car,” said Loiselle. “People are asking, ‘Why,’ but (COVID) is clearly not over. We don’t feel safe lifting it at all.”

A sign at A Muse N Games informs customers of the store's policy. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Loiselle said he wants to remain consistent for his customers, who know what to expect when they visit his bakeries, which do not have any seating.

“We want to keep our community safe and they want to keep us safe,” he said.

Bruce Careless, co-owner of Hull’s Family Bookstores, said a couple of maskless customers walked out of his West End store after being asked to cover their faces.

Masks are still mandatory at his shops in Winnipeg and Steinbach based on public comments from doctors, who said restrictions were being lifted too soon.

“There are still a lot of people in hospital and people are still dying,” said Careless. “We’re not going to gamble with the well-being of our customers.”

At Whodunit Mystery Bookstore on Lilac Street, a customer was asked to put on a mask when he walked in without one Wednesday morning.

When he asked why, staff explained the province is still recommending face coverings in indoor public places despite the end of the mandate.

La Belle Baguette owner Alix Loiselle says he was compared to Vladimir Putin by anti-maskers. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“He said, ‘I don’t believe what the province says, you’ve lost a customer,’” said owner Wendy Bumstead.

A negative comment on her store’s Facebook page appeared to be from a bot, she added.

Dave Hanson, owner of Sage Garden Greenhouses in south St. Vital, has received a small number of calls from customers asking why masks are still required there. Some have said they won’t return.

He considered the simplicity of wearing a mask vs. the potential consequences of COVID-19 infection and the impact on the health-care system.

“The balancing act there is to do the simple and easy thing, and do our best to keep people as safe as we can,” he said.

Hanson is immunocompromised, but said he would have kept a mask requirement to protect his staff and customers even if he wasn’t at higher risk.

Small businesses such as his would have trouble staying open if several staff members got sick, he said.

WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ICON Detour feature on the Whodunit? Mystery Bookstore. . Dave Saunderson. Jan 4 2005

In Winkler, a hotbed of anti-restriction sentiment, Megan Franklin was expecting negative messages after sticking with masks at her beauty studio, Frank + Olive.

Aside from one person vowing to never visit, Franklin’s customers have told her they’re happy to have a place they can wear a mask without being judged.

“I’m happy to provide a safe space for those in our community who still want to mask up,” she said.

Manitobans have been urged to be respectful of each other as restriction-free Manitoba enters what Premier Heather Stefanson has dubbed as a “new normal.”

While there are people who are happy to ditch their masks, some Manitobans still wearing them in public settings are more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.

Kerri MacKay had those people in mind when she set up in August 2021, after a previous mask mandate ended. Her website lists more than 50 businesses where masks are still mandatory.

She’s been self-isolating during most of the pandemic because her asthma is “severe,” MacKay said.

Dave Hanson considered the simplicity of wearing a mask vs. the potential consequences of COVID-19 infection and the impact on the health-care system in deciding customers should continue wearing masks at Sage Gardens Greenhouse. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“I knew there were other people like me who were looking for businesses still requiring masks,” the communications co-ordinator and health blogger said. “I’m pleased to see people are still looking for opportunities to keep themselves and their communities safe.”

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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