Despite an executive order requiring face coverings in public, law enforcement agencies in and around Catawba County say the governor’s mandate is unenforceable.
The decision leaves local restaurants and businesses to choose themselves whether to enforce or ignore the new requirement.
Bryan Norris, owner of Backstreets Grill in Hickory, said despite the deep divide between people who want to wear masks and those opposed to it, he is choosing to require people to wear masks when they enter the restaurant until they are seated.
“I’m just trying to do what’s good for everyone. I just want to do what’s right for everyone involved,” Norris said.
Norris said he wasn’t expecting a mask requirement and was surprised Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order requiring face coverings in public places and where social distancing is not possible to cut down on the spread of COVID-19
“I thought it was kind of a tough decision to make people do it,” Norris said. “It’s very divided on who wants to wear masks.”
Before the executive order went into effect, a number of law enforcement agencies, including the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office, said they would not enforce the order against individuals or businesses. The mandate calls for businesses and organizations, not individuals, to be cited for violating the order. The sheriff’s office said the broad exemptions to the rule make it unenforceable. People with medical or age exemptions do not have to show proof to not wear a mask.
Norris said despite knowing he would not be cited for not enforcing the rules, he chose to require masks to enter Backstreets. He didn’t like the idea of making that decision for others but felt it was the right move.
“I’m not speaking for either side,” Norris said. “I’m just doing what I think is right.”
The restaurant is also requiring employees to wear masks and is supplying masks for patrons who need them.
Other businesses have elected not to enforce the executive order, which went into effect on June 26.
Cosmo Motors car dealership in Hickory said it would not require customers or employees to wear a mask regardless of what local law enforcement is enforcing, according to a Facebook post from the business.
“If you feel that you are safer wearing a mask please do so,” the post read. “Our employees can wear one if they feel it’s in their best interest.”
The shop has hand sanitizer and soap readily available, but the owner does not believe the face-covering mandate is constitutional.
If law enforcement were to issue a citation to the shop for customers, Cosmo Motors offered to pay any fines or fees.
“It is your right to conduct your life and business with us as you see fit,” the post read.
Fairvalue grocery store in Caldwell County also announced it would not enforce the mask requirement for customers.
The company is encouraging and asking customers and employees to wear masks but it is not required, according to an announcement from the CEO Shawn Yambor.
“We are probably going to upset, hurt, or cause someone to degrade your business on social media because of that decision,” Yambor wrote.
The stores are offering online shopping and curbside pickup to help people trying to lessen exposure to the virus, the announcement said.
“Safety and freedom are both particularly important to me as an owner,” Yambor wrote. “Our policies allow each one of these to exist.”
Meg Locke, owner of Groucho’s Deli, is steadfast in her decision to require masks when people come in to pick up to-go orders at the restaurant. Long before the executive order, employees at Groucho’s had to wear masks and follow strict sanitary rules because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Locke said.
“I believe that public health is a real concern and that’s always been what we’re trying to do in our restaurant, regardless of what law enforcement does,” Locke said.
She disagrees with the sheriff’s decision not to enforce the new mandate. She believes the new executive order should be followed, just as the order to close restaurant dining rooms was followed.
Locke has chosen not to open her dining room yet and is happy to enforce the mask requirement with the number of COVID-19 cases rising each day.
“The numbers are not lying. The increase is not made up,” Locke said. “I just want to do anything to help and I’m going to err on the side of safety.”
The business news you need
With a weekly newsletter looking back at local history.