As the tide turns, retailers who have resisted masks are backing down

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NEW YORK – When the parent of the southern grocery chain, Winn-Dixie, said he was not going to force customers to wear masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, the response was brutal, some loyal customers swearing on social media never to. shop there again.

Days later, Winn-Dixie reversed the course and said he would impose masks in states or communities that don’t have them.

Monday’s about-face followed another high-profile reversal last month by AMC. Less than a day after the nation’s largest movie theater chain said it would hand over to local governments whether masks should be worn, it issued a new message in response to the social media backlash: customers who do not wear masks will not. admitted or allowed to stay.

On this Saturday, May 30, 2020, archive photo, people wearing protective masks line up to enter a target in Boston, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo / Michael Dwyer, file)

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Even if pockets of resistance remain, the tide seems to be turning on the masks. Three in four Americans prefer to force people to cover their faces outside their homes, according to a survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Even President Donald Trump has shifted his stance after months of downplaying the importance of masks and starting a partisan culture war on the issue.

“Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact,” he said earlier this week.

As the number of new cases of the virus has increased in a large number of states, particularly Florida, Texas, California and Arizona, national chains like Walmart, Target and more recently McDonald’s are issuing mask warrants. while health officials repeatedly advise that covering your nose and mouth may be one of the most effective ways to reduce infections – itself a reversal of messages from prior to the start of the pandemic.

“I think brands need to pay attention to the new consumer activist,” said Stefan Pollack, president of his own Los Angeles-based PR and marketing firm. “Brands no longer have the luxury of remaining neutral. ”

Leslie Fay, 56, a service coordinator for an aging home service company, said she was on the verge of boycotting Winn-Dixie when she heard of her initial decision not to require masks.

“It put me in the wrong direction to know that they are ignoring their employees and customers,” said the Clearwater, Florida resident. “I’m glad they turned the tide.”

Southeastern Grocers, the parent company of Winn-Dixie, said it initially rejected a mask warrant because it did not want to put its employees in the position of monitoring buyers. But he realized he had to pay attention to the well-being of his clients, workers and communities. Winn-Dixie’s 500 stores are located in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia, in addition to Florida – all states struggling with an increase in coronavirus cases.

“We know that masks play an important role in stopping the spread of this virus, and we have updated our policy to reflect this,” Joe Caldwell, a spokesperson for Southeastern said in a statement sent by email.

In this Sunday, April 5, 2020, archive photo, Joel Porro and Lizz Hernandez wear protective gloves and masks after shopping at a Walmart Supercenter in Miami. (David Santiago / Miami Herald via AP, file)

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AMC Theaters CEO Adam Aron said last month that it was clear from the response that “we haven’t gone far enough in using masks.”

“We think it’s absolutely essential that we listen to our guests,” Aron said.

The cascade of large retailers now instituting mask mandates has given previously reluctant small businesses permission to do the same, says Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

However, small businesses do not have the luxury of implementing national policies and are more sensitive to sentiment in their regions. And a lot of resistance from buyers remains, with viral videos of mask rule advocates continuing to surface on social media.

“There has been a trend that has shifted in favor of wearing masks,” said Neil Saunders, Managing Director of GlobalData Retail. “But there are people whose minds still won’t be changed by this. It’s easy to set up a policy. It is much more difficult to apply it and have your workers on the front line. ”

In fact, the parent company of Dollar Tree and Family Dollar has gone in the opposite direction, easing its mask restrictions. It had initially started requiring shoppers to wear masks with vendors and employees in stores, but then changed its policy last week to “ask” for masks in stores where there is no warrant. ‘State or local.

A spokesperson for Dollar Tree Inc. did not respond to emails from The Associated Press, but Saunders believes the company realized its grassroots staff would not be enough to enforce the rules. Others believe he wanted to siphon off anti-mask customers from Walmart and others.

In this Friday, May 15, 2020, file photo, a woman wearing a mask, left, walks past a Dollar Tree, while another woman queues to shop at the Chicago store. (AP Photo / Nam Y. Huh, file)

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A handful of independent shops and restaurants across the country are taking it upon themselves to display signs that offer unmasked customers an excuse to circumvent local rules by highlighting federal health protection laws that prohibit a business from posing questions about medical conditions.

“If we see you without a mask, we’ll assume you have a medical condition and welcome you inside to support our business,” read the sign at Casey’s restaurant in Roseburg, Ore., Which collected over $ 14,000 as part of a GoFundMe campaign launched at the end of May to fight legal fines imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for reopening its restaurant outside of governor’s orders.

Casey owners Lance and Laurie Mounts could not be reached immediately for comment.

Meanwhile, nearly 7 in 10 grocery store workers said their employers did not enforce mask warrants in stores, according to a survey of 4,000 grocery workers between June 22 and June 26 by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union International, which represents grocery store workers and meat packers, among others.

Mike Johnson, manager of Tim’s Cajun Kitchen in Huntsville, Ala., Where he has worked for 19 years, said he was flexible with the statewide mask tenure.

Before tenure began last week, around 50% of clients wore masks. now it’s up to 85%. He doesn’t feel comfortable kicking unmasked customers as most go for their limited lunch breaks and have other options.

“We would prefer customers to wear a mask, but if they don’t have it, they can come in and sit,” he said.

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