Galesburg businesses grapple with new policies
GALESBURG — When the Illinois Department of Public Health on May 18 declared new guidance, which removed mask mandates for vaccinated people, local businesses were presented a new challenge.
And the way they have responded has not been uniform. While some majors retailers like WalMart have dropped the mask mandates, small businesses have had to chart their own course.
Seminary Street retailer Dovetail, Rivet and Stitch owner Hilary Anderson says that masks are staying on for the time being. One of her employees has not worked for over a year because of chronic respiratory problems.
“For her sake, it’s best for us to be consistent across the board,” she said.
Anderson is not sure how long they will do this. She says the move is both out of consideration of her employee and her customers.
“It feels very early to take the masks off at this point,” she said.
At Brighter Life Bookshoppe, owner Mary Spring says that they are keeping up their “Please Wear a Mask” sign for now, but they are being lenient with people who say they have received a vaccine who do not want to wear a mask. If they feel someone unmasked should be wearing one, they tell them to put it on.
“Hopefully, the day will come when that’s not an issue at all,” she said.
Galesburg’s other book store does have a set time to open things up. Wordsmith Bookshoppe owner Teri Parks says while Illinois remains in its bridge phase between the phase 4 and 5 of COVID-19 recovery, Wordsmith will require masks.
“We want to make sure our staff is taken care of,” she said.
That said, if someone does come in without a mask on, she says they will not make a big deal about it.
Anderson says that part of keeping the mask rule in place at Dovetail has been in creating an atmosphere that feels safe to customers arriving on foot, who have become rarer since the pandemic began.
She says more people are shopping online now, and the store is seldom busy enough to make enforcing a mask rule difficult, and the customers who have been there have been great about following it.
“Throughout this whole pandemic, we’ve wanted to reinforce the idea that our store is safe, and the more people we can get to come in and shop, the better,” she said.
Galesburg’s health and organic foods store Cornucopia will try to accommodate employees and customers in a way that follows the new regulations but still leaves room for those who want an entirely masked atmosphere.
Out of concern for an employee who is still not vaccinated, employees will be required to remain masked, co-owner Maury Lyon said. People visiting the store, which also has a dining section, will not, however.
The store has also set a time once a week, from 8-10 a.m. on Thursdays, when only people with masks can come into the store. Lyon says the curbside pickups that Cornucopia established during the pandemic will also remain available, letting people call or use Cornucopia’s website to order groceries well into the future.
Eric Lieber, an owner at Boxcar Express, says that for now they are taking a neutral stance on masking. They still have their employees, who are about 80% vaccinated, wearing masks, but are still awaiting guidance from the governor and health department moving forward.
“We’ve left our (masking) signage as is. We’ve had people come in with masks and without,” he said. “I’m not going to run anybody away.”
He said keeping things stricter for employees in part has been due to the way regulations have been stricter to restaurants and bars, he says.
They are looking for some guidance from the Knox County Health Department he says, but remain unsure of what precisely they should be doing. It seems unlikely that any decision moving forward will be able to please everyone.
“It was such a controversial thing when they put the mandate in,” Lieber noted. “Now it’s going to be controversial taking it off.”