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Chicago businesses tasked with enforcing mask mandate say it beats checking vaccine cards

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CHICAGO — Reaction from Chicago businesses that will be tasked with enforcing the renewed indoor mask mandate announced by the city this week ranged from relief and support to concerns about getting customers to comply after many have gone maskless for weeks.

Mary Kay Tuzi, a second-generation co-owner of Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern in Old Town, said she’s not surprised by the mandate based on surging cases in Chicago and nationally, but worries battles with customers may be ahead.

While about half of Twin Anchors bartenders have gone back to wearing masks on the job and most servers have also, most customers do not, she said.

“Hopefully word gets out and we don’t have to be the people to educate everybody,” she said.

Tuzi said a renewed mask edict is preferable to being forced to check for proof of vaccination at the door.

“Having to check vaccine cards would have been a nightmare,” she said. “If this was the compromise they came up with, I’d rather do it.”

Her brother, Paul Tuzi, who is also a co-owner, said there may be particular customer pushback at the bar, where people have returned to crowding in together like the prepandemic days. The fact that so many people are vaccinated may also add a hurdle, he said, with some customers arguing that they don’t need to wear masks because they’re vaccinated.

“I can already anticipate we’ll have arguments like that,” he said.

Jewel-Osco said it would begin requiring grocery and pharmacy customers to wear a mask at all of its 37 Chicago stores on Friday. The company didn’t address questions about how it would handle situations where customers walked in without a mask.

Target said it will “follow all local mandates, as we have throughout the pandemic.” In areas where masks are required, employees at the front of the store inform customers about local rules and offer masks to customers who enter without one or encourage them to use contactless shopping options, such as curbside pickup, the company said in a statement.

Certain retailers either never stopped requiring masks or began asking customers to mask back up before the city’s mandate, including some grocery stores such as West Town grocery store Green Grocer Chicago and several shops catering to kids, who aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine.

Marcos Carbajal, owner of Carnitas Uruapan, which has locations in Gage Park and Pilsen, said his whole staff is vaccinated and most of his patrons still wear masks when entering the restaurant, so enforcing this mandate won’t be that hard.

“With things going in the direction they are going in, and with how transmissible the new variant is, this makes sense,” Carbajal said. “It’s a small sacrifice to make, especially if we can avoid another round of capacity restrictions.”

At Lift Chicago, a River North gym that offers personal training and small group classes, owner Josh Siroko said he hopes the new mask mandate will be short-lived.

“People were really excited to take the masks off, so it’s going to be a change for everyone, everywhere,” he said. “It’s going to be weird.”

The gym has not been requiring masks for vaccinated clients, and does plan to enforce the new mandate. Siroko doesn’t anticipate it will hurt business, because masks weren’t a deterrent to clients earlier in the pandemic, he said.

“We take this all seriously, because the faster we’re through all this, the better it is for everyone and the better it is for businesses,” he said.

Spencer Ng, second-generation owner of Triple Crown restaurant on the South Side, said he agrees with the mask mandate.

The restaurant has no outdoor seating, occupying a second floor with a view of the Chinatown Gate over Wentworth Avenue. “All my employees and I still wear masks every day when we’re at the restaurant,” he said. “For us, it’s not too much of a change.”

Masks are currently optional for vaccinated diners at the business best known for dim sum. About 70% of their diners have remained masked. Chinatown was one of the few neighborhoods where masks were not uncommon even before the pandemic.

“Some places I go downtown, I don’t see anybody wearing a mask,” Ng said.

At Salon Envy in Lincoln Park, owner Susan Gardner implemented her own mask mandate two weeks ago, as concerns about increasing COVID-19 cases and the more transmissible delta variant began to hit home in Chicago.

“With everything going on and the new variants, I just want to protect the staff and the guests,” said Gardner, 51. “I don’t want anyone to have anything happen here.”

The 15-year-old salon has 10 chairs, nine stylists and about 20 people inside at any given time throughout the day. When the mandates were lifted in June, most customers abandoned their masks during their appointments, although a few stylists kept wearing them, Gardner said.

Salon Envy did not ask customers if they were vaccinated.

“Whoever wanted to be in the salon without a mask could be in without,” Gardner said.

Gardner, who stopped wearing a mask herself at work this summer, had a change of heart as masks began to resurface at grocery stores and coffee shops in the wake of the delta variant surge. She decided to make them mandatory at her salon Aug. 3.

A sign was posted on the door and customers who didn’t have a mask received one at the front desk. Most took the salon’s mandate in stride, she said.

“We had one person who was not happy and refused to wear it,” Gardner said. “But other than that, we haven’t had any problems. People have actually been like, ‘I’m glad you guys are masking up again.’ ”

Gardner said the citywide mandate is “a good thing” and a measure that most Chicagoans will support, as evidenced by the proliferation of mask-wearers in recent weeks. Having the city behind her will add teeth to her in-house rules, she said.

“You’re going to sit in front of somebody for two hours doing their hair color and cut and you’re not going to mask?” Gardner said. “No, I don’t think so.”

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