Do you still wear a mask indoors? These shops would prefer if you did
Ontario is in a 7th wave driven by the Omicron BA.5 subvariant
Mandatory masking has been gone for a while now, but some small businesses still have masking-preferred policies.
"We think it's the best way to keep our customers and our community at large safe and healthy. It puts less stress on our already overburdened health-care system," said Charles Foley, manager of A Second Look Books and Movies in downtown Kitchener, Ont.
The used-book store has a sign posted outside that asks people to put on a mask before entering.
The sign is similar to the one posted on Full Circle Foods, also downtown. Co-owner Sam Nabi said they highly encourage mask use. But people are still welcome to come in without a mask on.
"I would say that any negative reactions have dropped off in the last six months and we have a wide variety of customers that like to shop here, and we're happy to serve them all," Nabi said. "The vast majority of them are respecting our rule, and that's because they value us as human beings and we have a relationship with them."
Flour Barrel in downtown Guelph has also received largely positive feedback from customers who are glad to see the masks-preferred sign on their door. The baking shop's manager, Heather Elliott, said the policy is helping employees feel safer.
"We're in downtown Guelph," said Elliott. "We do have a lot of clients who are unhoused and living on the streets, and you never really know what kind of contact they've had. So for safety reasons, we've chosen to still wear them."
She noted that not all customers understand why the policy is in place.
"You might lose a few customers because there are definitely customers that will not wear a mask and say that even if there was another mandate, they are not going to wear them. I think that people are just tired of wearing it and it's one way for them to lash out."
Foley said he's heard from some unhappy customers too. But like Elliott, he said it's rare.
"Most reactions are quite positive. They come in, they put on a mask and if they don't have one, we provide one for them. We want to create an inclusive environment where everyone can feel healthy."
Foley said their masking policy helps protect their older customer base, who are prone to more severe cases of COVID-19.
Providing free masks for customers
Most businesses that still have a masking policy provide masks upon entry for customers who don't have one.
Foley and Nabi said giving out free masks costs them approximately $100 per month.
"It's small but substantial," said Foley. "It's an added cost that we bear to help make a comfortable and safe experience for everybody."
Nabi said in addition to the masks, his store has also made some upgrades to improve air flow.
"All we did was buy new filters for our existing air conditioning system and those cost $20 per filter, which you need to change every three months. The portable HEPA filters cost in the range of $700 for the two of them. We've got some of that funding covered and out of pocket, we're able to manage it with our regular maintenance budget."
He said so far, the added costs have been worth it.
"We've always offered free masks to our customers and this is one layer of protection that is easy for us to do. It's something we'll keep doing as long as the risk of COVID infection is still out there."