COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Central Ohio business owners braced for change as indoor mask mandates took effect in several communities Friday.
“We’re all just watching and hoping the consumer confidence stays high and doesn’t drop off any further,” said John Barker, the president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association (ORA).
He called the industry’s pandemic recovery “fragile. While 2021 sales have already surpassed a dismal 2020, fluctuating COVID-19 case numbers and evolving health guidance are putting restaurants in a precarious situation.
“Anything that puts pressure on their business gives them pause. They want to do the right things,” Barker said of restaurant operators. “I applaud the mayor for taking this so seriously. Putting a mask mandate may help. We don’t know. It’s so controversial so we’ll wait to see what happens.”
Friday, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther’s executive order mandated everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask in public indoor spaces. Other Central Ohio communities, like Bexley and Whitehall, announced their own mask mandates. Franklin County Public Health is also encouraging other local municipalities to follow suit.
“This is obviously not ideal. We’d all love for this to be over and moving on, but this is the reality,” said Bob Szuter, the co-owner of Wolf’s Ridge Brewing in downtown Columbus.
He hopes requiring masks while case numbers and hospitalizations climb will help prevent another shutdown, which would ultimately hurt the recovering business.
“For the safety of those who are not able to get vaccinated, like young children and people with illnesses, I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “We need to do what we can to try to keep this under control.”
Clintonville cafe and bakery Dough Mama brought back mask requirements for its employees and customers more than a month before Columbus’ latest mandate took effect.
“We did that because our staff was feeling a little bit nervous. We noticed that cases were rising and we just wanted to be as safe as possible,” explained owner Perrie Wilkof.
Wilkof said she was relieved to hear about the citywide mask mandate because it bolsters Dough Mama’s own requirements.
“We haven’t had too many people take issue with us requiring masks, but now we have the government backing us up which is nice,” she said.
An ORA survey taken before the recent mask mandates found 78 percent of Ohio restaurant operators were not asking customers to wear masks. Merely 18 percent said they were requiring employees to wear masks.
“They’re a little bit concerned that some of their employees might leave their restaurants and go work at a restaurant somewhere outside of the city,” Barker said. “So they’re more concerned about employees now than they are about [losing] customers.”
Barker implores customers to be patient with restaurant workers and follow the evolving health guidance.
“They’re not the person to debate the mask mandate with,” he said. “If it’s a law, it’s a law. Please don’t take it out on them. Be nice to these people when you go into the restaurants.”