Do you smoke in grocery stores?


Alina Snopkowski, Editor

Fair warning: this article isn’t about smoking or grocery stores, at least not really. It’s about the rules and requirements that businesses have in place, and why being asked to wear a mask in certain places shouldn’t be a big issue.

For those of you who like charts and statistics, this site tracks, among other things, what percentage of the country’s population says they always wear a mask in public; here is the specific page for the state of Pennsylvania. In Delaware, where I am currently living and working, the last updated numbers show that a little over 80% of the people in the state say they always wear a mask in public. In the restaurant where I work, the vast majority of customers come in with their masks on or, if they forget, a simple “do you have a mask you can wear while you’re inside?” has them immediately scrambling in their pockets or purses to find their masks and put them on. When I’m working at the register up front, it’s my responsibility to make sure people are following the rules when they come in, and most customers are totally fine with it. A few months ago a man grumbled “are you serious? This is America” before reluctantly putting his mask on after I reminded him, but, for the most part, people are completely on top of the requirements.

And then here comes Paula (not her real name, of course, although I doubt anyone would be able to find her anyway). Paula calls and orders some food for takeout and I tell her it’ll be ready in about ten minutes. When she arrives, she’s not wearing her mask. We have signs on the windows but people forget. “Good morning,” I say, “do you have a mask you can wear while you’re in here?”

Paula flatly says “no.” Before I can say anything else, she launches into “it’s against the Constitution, so I’m not going to wear one. I don’t want to live in a communist country.”

I’ll be on record here and now saying I don’t particularly want to live in a communist country, either. But I don’t think asking someone to wear a mask while within a business that requires it is communism. The restaurant I work at didn’t invent these rules, but we have to follow them if we want to stay open. 99 percent of people understand this.

Back to Paula. She’s shoving her money at me and grabbing the plastic bag of her food off the front desk. “We appreciate you coming in but you have to wear a mask,” I say, probably a little meekly, because I was kind of rattled at the communism comment, “we have to follow these rules or we could get in trouble.”

“It’s not real, sweetheart,” she says, in the kind of tone that one might use to correct someone who said the moon is made of cheese, “wake up.”

And then she’s gone.

The whole interaction lasted barely a minute and the front desk is far over six feet away from any of the tables, so I doubt any customers even heard the conversation. But for the rest of the morning I was thinking about what else I should have said:

Do you smoke in grocery stores?

If there’s a sign on a store that says “no shoes, no shirt, no service,” do you walk in anyway in your bare feet and then get angry when they tell you to put some shoes on or leave? Or, more likely, do you not even bat an eye, because businesses having some level of requirements on what’s allowed (and not allowed) in their buildings is completely reasonable?

I don’t need to say that small businesses are struggling in this pandemic. We all know it. I also don’t need to say that these rules don’t necessarily come from us — usually a governor tells us what we have to do — but we’re required to follow them and enforce them in order to stay open. By patronizing a particular business, you pretty much agree to follow the rules while you’re on their premises. I don’t want to tell Paula not to come back, but the fact is she’s not allowed in if she refuses to wear her mask. I suppose it’s her right not to wear one, but it’s our responsibility not to let her in if she doesn’t. I, like most people, am looking forward to the day where we don’t have to wear masks anymore. But for the time being, this is the situation we have to deal with.

Signs like this one are on display in many restaurants in Delaware.

So, forgive me for the clickbait title for this article, but I want you to think about this mask situation not as ‘communism’ or some sort of infringement on personal freedoms but in this way — how different is it, really, from being told you must wear shoes in a particular store or that you can’t smoke in certain places? For the time being, “no mask, no service” has been added to these commonplace requirements. You’re allowed to spend your money and your time wherever you see fit, but if there’s a rule at a place you want to go to, you have to follow it. If you don’t want to, you can choose to go somewhere else. Small businesses are hurting enough — please don’t make it any more difficult by refusing to follow simple, clearly posted requirements.

And, believe it or not, Paula came back about a week later. She called again one morning, I recognized her name on the caller ID on the phone, and her order was identical to last time’s. I tell her ten minutes, give or take, and I wait at the front desk watching the parking lot for her car.

She pulls up and parks, then sits in her car for what seems like ten more minutes checking something on her phone. She isn’t wearing a mask yet. Okay, fine, she’s still in her car. She opens her door. Still no mask. Crosses the parking lot. Still no mask. I’m ready now — I’m prepared to tell her to go back outside, that she can give me her money out on the sidewalk and I’ll bring her food out to her there, but I can’t let her into the building.

And then, at the very last second, she pulls a mask up from around her neck. She gives me her money and takes her food and that’s that.

I don’t know why she changed her behavior, but I’m glad she did.

We won’t have to wear masks forever. One of my favorite websites at the moment is this one by Bloomberg, which estimates how long it’ll take to vaccinate 75 percent of the country’s population based on the current speed of vaccinations. Last I checked, they’re clocking it at about six months. That’s a while, but it’s certainly not forever.

Someday this will all be over, but until then, I ask you to please support your local small businesses in any way you can — and that includes wearing a mask.

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