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St. Louis County Business Owners In Limbo Over Mask Mandate

Meaghan Moeller, owner of Lusso, organizes her Clayton boutique in preparation of customers, who again will be required to be masked in her store. Mask mandates went back into effect Monday, July 26, 2021 at businesses in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
Kendall Crawford
St. Louis Public Radio
Meaghan Moeller, owner of Lusso, organizes her Clayton boutique in preparation of customers for the first day of the mask mandate on Monday. The St. Louis County Council overturned the mandate the next day.

Business owners in St. Louis County are unsure whether to require customers to wear masks in stores.

The County Council voted Tuesday to overturn an indoor mask mandate that County Executive Sam Page put in place a day earlier. The mandaterequired all residents 5 and older to wear masks in indoor public spaces even if they have received the vaccine.

Page said the mandate will remain in effect until a court decides who has the authority to issue mandates.

That leaves many business owners wondering how they should proceed.

“We don’t want to pass the virus to anyone. We don’t want to get the virus ourselves. We get it. But there’s just no good answer,” said Kristin Held, owner of Sweet Boutique in downtown Clayton. “We don’t know how to run a business in this pandemic that never seems to end.”

Many businesses have seen few customers during the coronavirus pandemic. Held said her business has lost revenue. Even if a court affirms the council’s decision to overturn the mandate, she said that won’t necessarily help her store recover. She fears many people will stay away because the delta variant of the coronavirus has sent the number of positive cases higher.

“If you take away the mask mandate, people are scared to go out because there’s not a mask mandate,” Held said. "If you put a mandate in place, people don’t want to shop because they don’t want to wear a mask.”

Across the county in Kirkwood, Karen Copeland and Beth Forsee, the owners of sammysoap, are in favor of the mask mandate. They want to do their part to protect their employees and those unable to get vaccinated.

“Our frontline workers have continued to mask before this delta variant reared its ugly head,” Forsee said. “They have the most to lose.”

Copeland said they will continue to look to local public health officials for guidance on whether to ask customers to wear a mask in the shop.

At Fantasy Shop in Maplewood, the “masks required” sign has remained up since the start of the pandemic. Even after the county lifted coronavirus restrictions in the spring, employee Shane Hanley said he asked customers to wear masks in the store.

“We feel that, generally, wearing a mask is easy and not much of an inconvenience,” Hanley said. “So, we chose to err on the side of safety.”

Hanley said the comic store will continue to implement that strategy for the foreseeable future, regardless of a court decision.

Other retail workers were disheartened to hear of the return to masking earlier this week.

“I was a little upset when it first was announced that we’re going back to it, but if you look at numbers and you look at what’s going on in St. Louis County right now, it makes sense,” said Josh Rathje, who does repairs for David’s Guitar Loft in Webster Groves.

Rathje said he would like to allow vaccinated customers to come into the store without a mask again. But, as long as it’s safer to require masks, he’ll continue to tell customers that masks are required.

“It’s definitely been frustrating to move back to it, but we’re going to stick with it,” Rathje said.

Follow Kendall on Twitter: @kcrawfish33