Being required to wear a mask while shopping is a no-brainer for some customers, a difficult adjustment for others and a source of rage for a few in Nelson.
On Nov. 19 the provincial government legislated mask-wearing for all indoor shopping. This has led to a variety of experiences for Nelson businesses.
The Kootenay Co-op has hired a security guard to protect its staff from customers who don’t want to wear masks in the store.
Since the mask order, the Co-op’s greeters outside the store have been put in some uncomfortable situations, according to general manager Ari Derfel.
A small but vocal number of shoppers berate the greeters or ignore them and enter the store without a mask.
“That’s when we have to go up to them in the store and say this is not a request, this is a public health order. That’s when they get really intense.”
He says 10-to-20 people a day are “very, very vocal. They are confrontational, rude or dismissive with our store staff and with our greeters.”
Derfel says he has provided staff with scripts to help them respond, but has told them if things get uncomfortable to simply contact a manager.
“If you don’t want to shop here, that’s totally your prerogative,” Derfel says. “But casting all sorts of aspersions and saying mean things and constantly barraging us with stuff and telling us we’re violating human rights just becomes exhausting. It’s hard enough dealing with the pandemic.”
Even before the Nov. 19 mask order, a small percentage of customers complained about Co-op staff wearing masks.
“They would walk up to a cashier and just start sharing their opinions about how the whole thing is a hoax,” he says. “Or they would tell me that this is how the Holocaust started, and we’re being fascists.”
It’s a different story at Hipperson’s Hardware in Nelson, where most shoppers arrive with a mask and manager Sean Dooley says that as of Nov. 24 the staff have had to turn only one person away who refused to wear one.
“There’s the odd person who has been a bit pushy about it,” he says, “but 99 per cent of people are pretty conscious of it.”
He says some people have a mask with them and just have to be reminded to put it on.
Dooley’s staff know that if a situation gets uncomfortable, they can simply refer the maskless person to him or to his assistant manager.
“For the most part, people are very co-operative,” he says.
At Glacier Cabs, where passengers are now required to wear masks, manager Terry Maglio told the Nelson Star they have had only one serious incident, and that all other passengers have been co-operative.
In coffee shops and restaurants, the provincial health order is complicated by the fact that customers can take off their mask while eating or drinking, but if they get up — to leave, go to the washroom, order more food — they have to put their mask back on.
Rebecca Hamilton, owner of John Ward Coffee, says that customers and staff are still getting used to this.
“It’s a lot of pressure on my staff to constantly be watching, on top of everything else that’s going on, to make sure that people are following the rules,” says Hamilton.
“Because if [Workers’ Compensation Board] comes in and sees that we have two people walking around with no masks, I don’t know what kind of trouble I could get into, and I don’t want to risk it.”
Hamilton says she is working longer hours these days so she can support her staff if needed. Some customers arrive with no masks because they say they were unaware of the health order, she says, and there is a small percentage who tell her the health order is against their human rights.
“The bottom line is, we can’t serve you,” she says. “You can’t come in unless you have a mask. And we just have to stick to that.”
Ashley Postnikoff, owner of Railtown Coffeehouse, agrees that it’s a transition period for customers and staff.
She says a small number of rude or demanding customers can have a disproportionately stressful effect on service staff, because working in the pandemic is hard enough already.
Some customers treat her disrespectfully because they don’t realize she is the owner.
“They think I’m some girl working here. And they think they can push to see how far they can go.”
She’s frustrated by “how they can snap back at customer service workers so hard, like I’ve heard of people getting spat on. I’ve been berated, called names, told to hurry up when I’m in the middle of a rush, just because we’re doing all the [proper COVID-19 procedures] behind the bar.”
Postnikoff says the saving grace is her regular supportive customers.
“They’re all here supporting me, which has been huge. I am so thankful for all of them. I’ve got good friends and connections, customers who come in here that brighten your day.”