October 19, 2020

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Winnipeg Free Press



Facing facts

Even without a provincial health directive, growing number of businesses require customers, staff to cover up

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The Manitoba government hasn’t mandated the use of masks indoors, but that isn’t stopping some retailers from taking matters into their own freshly washed hands.

Starting Thursday, all Woodcock Cycle Works customers and staff will be required to wear non-medical face masks. Exceptions will be made for people who can't wear them for medical or other reasons.

"(It) just seems like the socially responsible thing right now, I think, that we can all do to slow the spread," said Jon Carson, the bike shop's manager.

He said at least half of the store's visitors are already wearing them. The shop posted on social media Tuesday that face coverings would become mandatory; the directive comes in addition to other measures in place during the pandemic, including increased sanitizing of high-touch areas and limiting the number of people in the store.

Employees have been wearing masks for weeks.

Wearing a mask in retail environments is starting to become the norm. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press files)


Wearing a mask in retail environments is starting to become the norm. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press files)

"We obviously would prefer to have everything 'business as usual,' but that's just not a possibility," Carson said. "We just hope that people accept that we're taking the safety of our customers and our staff seriously."

For the most part, people have been understanding of the protocols, he said. However, there's been some pushback — and Carson said he's worried about negative feedback staff might receive from unhappy customers.

"I think some people may be more upset at individual businesses who decide to go this route because it's our own policy, and maybe that doesn't have as much meaning to them," he said, adding if the government were to mandate mask-wearing in shops, it'd be easier for retailers to enforce the rules.

"If we can just say, 'It's the law, please obey it,' I think you'll get less pushback from people," he said.

Customers at Unique Bunny's Osborne Street location have had to wear non-medical face masks inside since June. Fiona Zhao, the Japanese and Korean goods store's owner, removed the policy periods in July and August when Manitoba had few active cases of COVID-19, but she brought it back as the virus made an unwelcome return.

Some people visit Unique Bunny to buy reusable non-medical masks; others who aren't shopping for one and don't have one on hand can buy a disposable mask for 25 cents. Customers not willing to wear a mask are not allowed inside.

"I don't feel sad at losing customers that don't wear masks," Zhao said.

Unique Bunny owner Fiona Zhao requires all customers who enter her store to wear a mask. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)


Unique Bunny owner Fiona Zhao requires all customers who enter her store to wear a mask. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Fewer people need to buy a disposable mask now, especially when compared to earlier in the pandemic, Zhao said. However, she's still being confronted by angry customers who either don't agree with the mask policy or don't appreciate having to wait outside because of the new maximum occupancy limit.

But she doesn't plan to relax the policy until there's an available vaccine or the number of cases in the province drops significantly.

Many other shops along Osborne have rules similar to Zhao's: stores have signs requesting customers practise physical distancing, use hand sanitizer and wear masks.

But not all. Tharnzie, a clothing store, for example.

"We haven't made it mandatory because the government hasn't told us (to)," said Nick Kesar, the shop's chief operations officer.

The store has made adjustments as the province has required. Only four people are allowed inside at a time, there are guides on the floor to promote physical distancing, hand sanitizer is provided at the door. Tharnzie's employees wear masks. However, unless the province mandates masks, the store will stay away from the hot-button issue.

"I've noticed a lot of people are refusing to wear masks," Kesar said, adding that some customers have a hard time following the rules currently in place.

"I don't feel sad at losing customers that don't wear masks." ‐ Unique Bunny owner Fiona Zhao

Some large retailers, such as Safeway and Sobeys, haven't made non-medical face coverings mandatory. Walmart did Aug. 12, and people entering Real Canadian Superstore and No Frills locations must wear masks or face coverings beginning Saturday. Masks are required inside Food Fare on Cavalier Drive, but not in its other locations.

Munther Zeid, who owns the Food Fare chain, said his company left it up to customers to decide whether masks should be mandatory. The Cavalier location's customers were supportive, but patrons at the other locations were not. Zeid said he's trying to balance the need to keep his customers happy with a responsibility to prevent virus spread.

He added that if the province mandates mask-wearing in stores, Food Fare will fully enforce the rule.

Sookram's Brewing Company, a taproom and craft brewery on Warsaw Avenue, will require guests to wear masks indoors starting Thursday. Customers can remove their masks when seated at tables but must put them back on when getting up to order a drink or use the washroom. Kilter Brewing Company is also rolling out identical rules this week.


Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Community journalist — The Headliner

Gabrielle Piché is the community journalist for The Headliner. Email her at gabrielle.piche@canstarnews.com

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