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 The outside of Tia B's La Waffleria, a restaurant in Albuquerque. 

Small businesses respond to mask mandate lift

Although Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lifted New Mexico’s indoor mask mandate in mid-February, small businesses have been deciding for themselves whether or not they really want to stop wearing masks.

Matt Alexander, the owner of Picture Perfect Photo Lab, said he allowed his employees to vote on if they wanted to continue requiring masks in store.

“The employees aren't comfortable yet not wearing masks,” Alexander said. “We're asking the public to wear a mask when they come in, and we still have signs up asking to wear masks.” 

Like Picture Perfect, Evolution Body Piercing has decided to continue wearing masks inside their business as employees don’t feel safe without them yet.

“We are a close contact business and so at this point, we are still requiring clients to wear a mask,” Crystal Sims, co-founder of Evolution Body Piercing, said. 

Sims said masks also prevent other types of sickness, such as the common cold and flu, and fewer employees have reported being sick.

Although Sims doesn’t love wearing masks, she and her staff are not ready to be without them in the small workspace.

“You can't get a piercing and be six feet away from the piercer, and you can't even really select jewelry and be six feet away from the person who is showing you the jewelry,” Sims said.

Tia B’s La Waffleria manager and executive chef Jeremy Jordanain said he and his staff were excited about the mask mandate lift as they feel it makes it much easier to be part of the service industry.

Jordanian said the mask mandate put employees in an uncomfortable position with their customers because he felt it was out of the scope of the service worker job to enforce such a contentious mandate. Now that masks are no longer required, Jordanian feels more at ease as people can choose whether or not they want to keep using them.

“We're there to take care of customers and it kind of put a wrench in the views because some people’s ideas … and their beliefs didn't really agree with mandates,” Jordanian said.

Last week, a customer called Picture Perfect to let them know she was no longer going to support them because they keep asking clients to wear masks inside the store. Alexander said that, as a business owner, something like that was hard to hear but won’t change his decision.

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“If asking you to wear a mask for the two or three minutes you’re inside the store is the biggest offense that we did, then we're all set. We don't need you to continue to support us,” Alexander said.

Alexander said on multiple occasions, customers have left or given staff stickers with the definition of what “liberty” is to show their unhappiness with the store’s mask policy.

Sims emphasized how the COVID-19 pandemic has created the need for frequent changes in store policies that creates confusion for customers.

“(The pandemic) just created constant change within the business, changing our rules and requirements, which then makes it difficult to communicate with clients who get upset if they come in thinking that they aren't going to have to wear a mask and now they have to wear a mask or whatever the case may be,” Sims said.

Looking to the future, Alexander hopes that soon he and his staff at Picture Perfect will feel more comfortable in easing out of the mask requirement inside the store for both clients and employees.

“We still have hand sanitizer available to everybody — staff and the public. We still have the plastic barriers around, but basically I think everybody has their own comfortability level of when they're going to be comfortable (with removing masks).” Alexander said.

Annya Loya is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @annyaloya

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