Face anger, harassment from some customers
After well over a year of fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic, masks and vaccination requirements are still driving a wedge between local businesses and some of their customers.
Washington is again asking people, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear masks in public indoor settings, starting this Monday (Aug. 23). However, some area businesses are asking for more.
Earlier this month, Becky Jones, owner of the Winthrop Beauty and Styling Parlor, put up a sign asking that her customers be vaccinated before they come in for a haircut.
“I work very close to my customers, face-to-face,” she said, noting that many of her clients are senior citizens, and that she cuts residents’ hair at Jamie’s Place on Saturdays. She said she’s concerned about getting sick, but also about passing it on to her most vulnerable clients.
“We can still give the virus out,” said Jones, who has cut hair in Winthrop for about 25 years. “We’re not safe against exposing other people.”
It wasn’t long before she started hearing negative feedback, and experiencing some harassment. On Tuesday (Aug. 17), she came to work to find spit on her door by the sign. The next day, someone had taped up an article by a prominent anti-vaccine activist comparing vaccine mandates to actions by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
Proud — and careful
“I’m not scared about it, in fact I’m proud of it,” Jones said. “I’m not trying to be political with that sign, I’m trying to be careful.”
The next day, Jones found the bench in front of her shop had been tossed into the street. She reported the incidents to the Winthrop Marshal’s Office.
Winthrop Marshal Doug Johnson confirmed the three incidents were reported, but said the third —the bench being moved into the street — may have been related to a different incident. At about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night (Aug. 18), a man and woman are suspected of climbing up to the roof of buildings at the intersection of Riverside Avenue and Highway 20 to try to ring the bell on top of the Tenderfoot store.
“The last episode was certainly just more drunken revelry that was taking place in the immediate area of the beauty shop and was unrelated. … We actually think they used that bench to get up on the roof at some point,” Johnson said, adding that “knuckleheadery” was not unheard of in the vicinity of several downtown bars. Deputies are working to learn the identities of the suspects, who were reportedly caught on surveillance camera.
While the incident with the bench is in dispute, businesses like Jones’, which either ask for more stringent COVID-19 precautions or strictly enforce existing mask mandates, report getting a hard time from a portion of their customers.
When the state loosened its mask mandate earlier this summer, allowing people who were vaccinated to go mask-free, Trail’s End Bookstore continued requiring face coverings in the store.
“It was a stance that we as a company decided to take. We just decided that this was the easiest course of action for us,” said co-owner Abilene Hagee. Staff members have children who are too young to be vaccinated, and they were concerned about customers who were either too young, or couldn’t get vaccinated for legitimate reasons. They also suspected mask mandates would be back sooner rather than later.
“And people are not being super honest about being vaccinated,” Hagee said.
The decision has definitely led to some frustration, angry phone calls and customers walking out. The store offers masks to anyone who enters.
Hagee said the first few months of the mask mandate last year were the worst.
“I do feel like the ones who were super upset were the loudest and the most aggressive,” Hagee said. “We had someone come in and call us Marxists. … There’s a lot of anxiety that goes along with that.”
Jones’ salon isn’t the only area business to ask for proof of vaccination.
Last week, The Barnyard Cinema in Winthrop announced that it would require proof of vaccination for patrons over 12 years old as of Friday (Aug. 13). An Instagram post from the business was met with a mixed response — a number of commenters applauded the decision, while others said they would no longer attend events there and accused the business of “segregation.”
Beginning at the end of this week, Tappi in Twisp also plans to ask for proof of vaccination, and received a mix of responses to a Facebook post on the topic.
Tappi owner John Bonica said his restaurant only just reopened for dine-in service a few weeks ago after offering take-out through the majority of the pandemic. But the resurgence of the virus through the Delta variant made him think twice. He said only a few people have reacted negatively to the restaurant’s vaccination requirement, and that his most loyal customers are showing strong support.
“Honestly, it’s my grandchildren,” Bonica said. “My grandsons, who are 10 and 6, are moving back to the Methow. I was like, I am not going to jeopardize the health of my grandchildren … because I’m allowing people who are irresponsible about vaccinations to come into my restaurant.”
Last Thursday (Aug. 19), Nectar Skin Bar in Winthrop had recently updated a sign on its door asking for all of its customers to wear a mask, regardless of vaccine status.
Office manager Dana Stromberger said their patrons, perhaps because the business offers up-close-and-personal services, have been largely compliant with the request.
“I could count on one hand the number of negative interactions I’ve had,” she said. Most people who don’t want to wear a mask just leave quickly, she said.
Jones said she’s certainly lost some customers, but she’s gained others who appreciate her stance. When one woman called for an appointment but wasn’t vaccinated, Jones said she offered to cut her hair for free if she’d get her shot. The woman declined.
“I don’t even want to deal with people who don’t care about their community or the people in it,” she said. “I’m not concerned about it. I wish they’d come say it to my face.”
Hagee said Trail’s End hasn’t suffered financially from the business’s decision to require masks.
“For every one customer like that, we had 10 more who were super grateful,” Hagee said. “Up until the fires, this was the best year we’d ever had.”
Johnson said he has also noticed the tension in the community when asked about anger directed at businesses over the requirements.
“What I can tell you is it’s a very polarizing issue and there is a lot of stress in the world over this,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot more people just angsty, and people in both camps seem to be having shorter fuses. The angst and anxiety level is high and people have a tendency to overreact over other things, parking disputes, things they might have let wash off their back 99% of the time.”