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Businesses make hard choice on masks

Now that Gov. Greg Abbott has rescinded the statewide face covering mandate, local businesses must decide whether or not to require patrons and employees to mask up inside. Staff photo by Brigid Cooley

CORRECTION: The information in this story on Bear King Brewery has been updated after a subsequent interview with the co-owners. 

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Highland Lakes businesses are facing a tough decision: whether or not to require customers wear masks now that Gov. Greg Abbott has lifted the statewide face covering mandate as of Wednesday, March 10. 

Abbott is also allowing businesses to open at 100 percent capacity. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommend people continue to wear masks, keep a distance of 6 feet, and wash and sanitize hands often to fight the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. As of March 10, Texas has seen 45,754 deaths from the disease, while 527,000 have died across the United States. 

Owners of Bear King Brewing Company, 207 Avenue G in Marble Falls, had been discussing how quickly to open when restrictions were lifted. They began their conversations at the beginning of March in anticipation, co-owner Grant Guidry said. 

“With everything the way it was, we’re not fully prepared to completely reopen yet,” Guidry said. 

Previously, the brewery was operating at 50 percent capacity, allowing guests to sit in its outdoor patio or side dining room. Guests would order their food through the company’s website, noting their table number so staff could bring them their food.

Guidry said the brewery is now working toward reopening its taproom and allowing customers the option of ordering at the registers; owners are also considering installing plexiglass dividers at the registers. 

Staff and guests will be required to wear masks inside and tables will remain spaced out “for the time being,” Guidry said. They are “playing it by ear” when it comes to opening up to 100 percent capacity and will make decisions based on the safety of their staff.  

“If one of them were to get it, we’d have to close down for two weeks, so we have a lot to consider,” Guidry said. 

Some local businesses, like Darci’s Deli, 909 Third St. in Marble Falls, will allow customers to choose whether or not to wear masks.

“We believe in freedom here,” owner Darci White said. “If you want to wear a mask, you can; if you don’t, that’s fine.” 

The deli is staffed by White and her sister, Pam Klotz, who have both chosen not to wear masks. 

On March 10, the pair reopened the deli’s all-you-can-eat salad bar for the first time in a year. Only one guest is allowed to use the bar at a time, and tables inside the restaurant will remain spaced out.

Since reopening in May of last year, a sign posted on the door of the Marble Falls Flower and Gift Shop has asked guests to sanitize their hands upon entering the store. Although masks are no longer required inside, the store might keep the sanitizing station a little longer, said owner Aileen Spillman. 

Spillman said the shop received more business than usual last summer as many people ordered flower arrangements for friends and family they could not see in person. Foot traffic at the store, 214 Main St. in downtown Marble Falls, is busiest Thursday through Saturday. Most orders are placed over the phone during the rest of the week.

“I think it needs to be an individual decision to wear masks,” Spillman said. “If the governor lifted the mandate, we’re OK with it.” 

Spillman said staff members want patrons to feel comfortable and will wear masks while working with customers inside the store if they express concern.

At Wingman Brothers Smoke House, 2407 U.S. 281 in Marble Falls, signs stating customers were required to wear masks in the restaurant have been replaced with ones encouraging them to wear masks while ordering food inside.

“It is a short amount of time, but it can make a huge difference,” the sign reads.  

General Manager Cody Wing said that deciding what to do was difficult because of so many differing views. Although they chose to recommend that customers stay masked, employees will continue to wear them as they work. 

“With a small business like ours, if one person gets it, it could shut us down,” Wing said. “We’re hoping most people will understand our side of it, but we’re not naive and know some people won’t, just like how some people don’t wear them in H-E-B or Walmart.”

DailyTrib.com reached out to more businesses in the Highland Lakes, including several in Burnet and Kingsland, but only these represented here were available or willing to to comment by deadline. 

brigid@thepicayune.com