In a comic strip on the front window of Graham Crackers Comics in DeKalb, a character exclaims to Peter Parker: “Your Mask … Please … PUT YOUR MASK BACK ON!!!”
Like the character talking to Spider-Man’s alias, the store’s owners say they want their customers to be superheroes by wearing facial coverings amid growing public health concern over the rise of the COVID-19 delta variant.
“We’ve waited a lifetime to wear a mask to help other people,” said Kevin Healy, manager of the shop near the campus of Northern Illinois University. “We’re hoping they get on board with that.”
Graham Crackers’ 12 stores — with locations that include Naperville, Wheaton, St. Charles and three in Chicago — are among local retailers to voluntarily bring back an indoor mask requirement after they dropped it when a state mandate ended in June.
This Spider-Man comic strip in the window of Graham Crackers Comics in DeKalb tells customers — in no uncertain terms — of the store’s new mask requirement.
– Courtesy of Graham Crackers Comics
Store managers changed out signage on doors and windows over the weekend, now requiring all customers older than 2 to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. The decision came after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission.
Healy has been tracking the COVID-19 case numbers and has seen them continue to climb in at least three counties where Graham Crackers has comic book stores.
“It seems like such a small step we can take to try to mitigate some stuff ahead of time,” Healy said. “We don’t want to get to a point where we’re shutting down again.”
Across the suburbs, there’s a patchwork of rules and regulations at retailers both big and small. Some have signs saying masks are recommended or highly encouraged. Others say facial coverings are optional, and some retailers don’t have a sign out front at all.
“Unlike last year, where there was a mandate for masking indoors, it came from the state level, and it was pretty consistent,” said Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance, a nonprofit business group in the city’s center. “Now I think we’re all just getting used to this idea of resurgence. It’s going to be each business’s decision until it’s mandated.”
Small suburban downtown mom-and-pop boutique shops are among those to bring back mask requirements in recent days.
Sarah Whitt, owner of House of 423 in downtown Batavia, said she plans to put signs back up requiring masks to enter her women’s clothing store.
She shares one of her door entrances with Ruby Jane, a children’s clothing store, where many new and expectant mothers shop with their kids. The size of the small indoor space, along with the safety of her employees and customers, is enough to make the change, Whitt said.
“I’m a small-business owner. It’s a small space. I’m a single parent. There’s a lot of different things that go into it,” Whitt said. “I just can’t take the risk.”
Just on the other side of the Fox River, Hearth & Hammer General has already put up signs mandating masks. Co-owner Annie Scholl expressed similar concern about the number of families with young children who come into her gift shop.
“A lot of the kids that come in here don’t have the opportunity to be vaccinated,” she said. “We want to make sure it’s a safe place for all the families that come in here and anyone immunocompromised.”
Among larger stores, the popular Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights — a Japanese supermarket that resembles an indoor mall — reinstituted its mask requirement last week. Signs saying “No face coverings, no entry” are now in place.
The direction came from the company’s corporate office in Torrance, California, and applies to all 11 stores in the chain, from New Jersey to Hawaii.
Though security guards are posted by the front door to enforce the rules in Arlington Heights, the food court — where people can take their masks off — is still open, a local store official said.