Masks are now required in all indoor public spaces throughout Brunswick, and while some business owners feel the town’s mandate takes the pressure off them, others report of unruly customers and have concerns about decreasing sales.
Brunswick councilors unanimously approved the indoor mask mandate earlier this month in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and provide relief for Mid Coast Hospital, which is seeing its largest surge in hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic.
The mandate came into effect on Jan. 12, and all businesses must hang a “masks required” sign by Jan. 18.
At Mister Bagel, owner Beth Soma said in an interview Friday that she is concerned the mandate will deter customers and negatively impact sales for the café. Soma estimated that about 20 to 25 interactions had taken place so far about the masking rules, some of which were “very aggressive.”
“We had a gentleman yesterday, when we asked him for the third time to put on a mask, he said that he would not be back here, that he will go across the bridge,” said Soma, adding “then I had one lady say that she would rather do business in Bath.”
Prior to the mandate Mister Bagel asked that unvaccinated customers wear masks, Soma said.
TJ Siatras, owner of Joshua’s Restaurant & Tavern, also said some customers have been disagreeable about the masking rules.
“The conversations, I won’t say they get heated, but they do get a little elevated because while it is a public health mandate it still has political overtones” said Siatras. Prior to the mandate, Joshua’s requested that employees and customers wear masks if unvaccinated.
Siatras said he believes the mask mandate is one of several new community restrictions sparked by the recent COVID-19 surge that will either directly or indirectly deter customers. Another example, Siatras said, are the new COVID-19 restrictions announced by Bowdoin College, which have caused visiting families to cancel reservations.
Hatch on Maine co-owner Dustan Larsen said on Friday that the mandate has had no real impact on her business so far. Hatch on Maine is a Brunswick store that sells antiques, local gifts and vintage items. Larsen said that before the mandate, the store encouraged customers to wear masks, but did not require it.
“It removes the pressure of having to make that call, so we really appreciate it because of where we are in the pandemic,” said Larsen on Friday, adding that so far, no customers have pushed back.
Indrani Dennen, owner of the store Indrani’s, said on Friday that before the mandate the store recommended masks but left it up the customers. Dennen said that the town mandate gives her “a leg to stand on” if she needed to ask a customer to put a mask on, but ultimately there have been no problems.
“Truthfully most of our customers had been wearing masks anyway so it hasn’t really changed much for us,” said Dennen. “I haven’t noticed any resistance. I think everyone is quite happy to keep their masks on.”
Indrani’s sells women’s clothing and jewelry, African drums, baskets, gifts and beads.
According to Brunswick Police Department Commander Paul Hansen, as of Friday, the department had received 11 calls about the mask mandate – although several were about stores having not posted signs, a requirement that doesn’t kick in until the Jan. 18.
Other complaints were from businesses about patrons refusing to wear masks, Hansen said, and officers went to the location to request customers put masks on. As of Friday, no citations had been issued.
Brunswick Town Manager John Eldridge said the town has helped businesses by preparing a “face coverings required” sign that can be download through the website and by implementing a web portal for complaints. Masks are also available for businesses that need them, Eldridge said.