How businesses are dealing with Edmonton's mandatory mask bylaw

The city's mandatory face covering bylaw came into effect on Aug. 1. Since then, some business owners are getting pushback from customers while others are seeing almost 100 per cent compliance.

'We're going to make sure we serve people in the best possible way'

It's been one month since the city introduced a mandatory face covering bylaw. (Arthur Raham/CBC)

Some business owners say it's been a steep learning curve to make sure clients mask indoors since the city's mandatory face covering bylaw was introduced last month.

And for many, it's a new part of their job they never expected.

"It's not easy at all," Vinny Bindra, manager of the Spice Centre grocery store, told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM

"Six months into this, we understand people are tired and want to get on with their lives. At the same time, we can't pretend it's over. We have to keep our focus and prevent [the] high numbers."

The city's mandatory face covering bylaw came into effect on Aug. 1, making it mandatory for people to wear a mask indoors and inside vehicles. 

There are some exceptions to the city bylaw, including those who are consuming food or drink in designated seating areas or as part of religious ceremonies and people who are in employee-only spaces with physical barriers installed. 

Bindra said in the last month, only a few clients have entered the store without a mask. He said the majority of people either forget it in the car or their pockets. 

And even then, the majority of the conversations asking clients to wear a mask have been civil.

"We treat all of our customers like our families. If people walk in without a mask, we politely ask them to put a mask on," he said of his store, which does not refuse service to those not wearing a mask.

Chelaine Kerr, director of sales with Floc Boutique clothing store, echoes Bindra's sentiments.

"It does come down to respecting one another," she said, adding that the store has had a mandatory mask rule since June.

"We do still need extra prompts or a nudge but don't think it's been a real issue."

The city also introduced an exemption program last month, allowing those with a city-issued exemption card to walk in malls, grocery stores and other indoor spaces mask-free.

The program was introduced for those who are unable to wear a mask due to physical or mental health conditions. 

People were able to pick up the exemption cards at any city recreation centre without any additional screening. The program lasted less than a week before the city suspended it indefinitely while officials re-evaluate the program.

Rima Devitt, co-owner of Blue Plate Diner, hasn't seen any of the cards at her restaurant but also wouldn't accept them.

What she has seen is an increase in pushback from customers not wanting to wear a mask within the last month.

Edmontonians with this card are exempt from wearing a mask or face covering in an indoor public space. (CBC News)

People have to wear a mask to be served at the restaurant and only have to wear it for the short distance from the door to their table.

"It's not a big ask as far as I'm concerned," Devitt said, adding it's about keeping staff and customers inside the restaurant safe.

"My main responsibility is making sure everybody, all of those people, feel like I have their backs and I'm doing everything I can to make them feel safe and comfortable in the new environment we've created."

Businesses have the right to refuse service to anyone, according to the city's website.

The city also says on its website that they encourage businesses to not refuse service to those with legitimate exemptions under the bylaw.

But that anyone refused service should discuss options with the business, like private appointments or curbside pick-up.

Those measures, along with online shopping, are options that have been offered by Revolution Cycle staff to clients not willing to wear a mask before entering the store. 

It's not going to change our policy because you're yelling at us.- Michael MacFynn, Revolution Cycle

People need to wear a mask to shop inside the bike store.

It's a policy that has not sat well with everyone, according to public relations and marketing manager Michael MacFynn.

Within the last month, people upset with the store's mask policy have left negative business reviews and threats on social media.

Revolution Cycle public relations and marketing manager Michael MacFynn said the exemption cards don't change store policy. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

But the store has also received supportive words from both existing and new customers.

"We're really happy with the positive feedback we got," MacFynn said. "It tells us we're making the right decision.

"For the one or two people who are really loud, threatening and angry, it's not going to change our minds. It's not going to change our policy because you're yelling at us. We're going to make sure we serve people in the best possible way."

MacFynn added that mandatory mask rule is also to protect employees from COVID-19 and from other illnesses like the common cold or the flu.

"We want to accommodate people as much as possible. It's not our job to police people to wear masks. It's our job to put people on bicycles and find a new way to get outdoors and experience two wheels."


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