It’s a Monday, one of the hottest of the year, and Port Townsend is packed. Downtown Water Street usually boasts an array of bustling visitors to the town, ready to explore the shops that line …
It’s a Monday, one of the hottest of the year, and Port Townsend is packed. Downtown Water Street usually boasts an array of bustling visitors to the town, ready to explore the shops that line the waterfront. This year, they’re all required to wear masks.
I took an observational walk around on Friday and Monday afternoons, watching interactions between customers and staff, and talking with the shopkeepers on shift about their experience enforcing the mask mandate, which requires Washingtonians to wear a face-covering in public spaces and indoors.
Out of the 25 businesses that I went into, 15 had clear plastic shields creating a barrier between employees and customers, 19 had hand sanitizer available upon entry, and 24 were being manned by an employee wearing a mask.
Lesley Shelton was working at Summer House Design when I came in, and in the middle of a quandary. She had been winding up a small trinket on the desk when a young boy, wearing his small mask, reached up to play with it. In normal times, Shelton would have encouraged handling products placed at the counter. Now, not so much.
She asked the adult who had accompanied the boy into the store what could be done, and the two resolved that if everyone sanitized their hands before and after, he could touch the toy.
“What do you do in that situation?” Shelton said afterward. “I know that people just want to get outside and feel good.”
Aside from wanting to help children, there are also obligations that businesses have to themselves to always be pushing products, making sales, driving up revenue that has been so low for so long.
It’s difficult for businesses in downtown Port Townsend which rely heavily on seasonal tourism to turn away customers.
Luckily, tourists and locals alike have been generally compliant. Last weekend was the busiest in a long time for the Northwest Man, but David Valley said that he only had to tell two people to mask up out of the hundreds that crossed the threshold.
Now that masks are required statewide, enforcing that policy within businesses has become easier. Workers at Sirens Pub and William James Bookseller both said that customers are wearing masks much more, and are more receptive to requests to do so, now that it is a law.
Working in retail now requires one to be “constantly vigilant,” said Paul Stafford of William James Bookseller.
Not everyone agrees with the mask mandate.
Among businesses, Derr Jewelry was the only one of the 25 I went into that did not have all employees wearing masks, nor were there clear plastic face shields in place between customers and staff. Shop owner Jeffrey Derr declined to elaborate on his business’s policies regarding the mask mandate.
Among customers, the lack of adherence to the mandate comes in various forms. Marvin Copeland-Griggs, who works at the Green Eyeshade, has received resistance to requests for customers to wear their masks, or wear them properly. Twice, he said, he asked people to pull their masks up over their nose, and the individual “stomped out.”
Copeland-Griggs also said that a customer had cited a constitutional violation in response to the request to wear a mask.
Several of the shopkeepers noted a difference between locals and tourists in rates of mask-wearing. Employees and owners at Joglo, the PT Shirt Company, the Conservatory, and the Lively Olive Tasting Bar all explained that the two groups treat the mandate differently; in general, locals wear their masks on the streets without being asked, while visitors to town are more likely to only don masks upon entering a business.