Business owners prepared to enforce Erie County mask mandate – to varying degrees

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – As of Tuesday morning, businesses in Erie County are required to force customers to wear masks indoors. It’s a return to the way things were in the earlier days of the pandemic. Owners of those businesses are deciding how – if at all – to enforce the county’s new rule.

For instance, Mister Goodbar on Elmwood Avenue wants to avoid enforcing it all together. So they’ll only be allowing vaccinated people into their bar, exempting them from the mask mandate.

“Trying to enforce the mask mandate would be extremely difficult for us,” said owner Bobby Rabb, noting many restaurants are dealing with staffing shortages. “Making it vaccinated only and showing proof at the door allows us to focus on what we need to do inside and take care of our customers.”

Dave Schutte owns Oliver’s Restaurant. He called the implementation of a mask mandate “terribly” disappointing. But he admitted he understood decision makers had a responsibility to do something.

“We’ll do our best to encourage everyone to understand the rules, that you’re supposed to wear your mask while away from the table,” Schutte said. “At the same time, we’re not going to tackle you before you get to the bathroom and strap your mask on for you.”

Brandon Carr says the mandate won’t change anything at The Quarter.

“I’m going to stay with the exact same mask policy that I’ve had for the last, probably year now,” he said.

“If you’re not vaccinated, please wear a mask. If you’re not comfortable, we have sectioned off areas where you can be socially distanced and stay in that area. But if you’re vaccinated, we don’t think you need to wear a mask. We’re going to stick to that policy,” added Carr, who is also planning to open a new restaurant called NOLA Buffalo.

The mandate will also apply to grocery stores. Spokespersons for both Tops and Wegmans said Tuesday that they would comply with government mandates.

“As we have done in the past, Tops will continue to comply with whatever mandates are in place,” the Tops spokesperson said in an email.

The Wegmans spokesperson also emailed News 4, saying, “We are focused on complying with these mandates, while keeping the health and safety of our employees and customers a top priority. Short of refusing entrance to our stores, we are doing everything we can to educate our customers and stress the importance of compliance. Anyone who enters our stores without a mask is approached by one of our people and offered a free mask.”

On Monday, as he was announcing the mask mandate would be taking effect, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said he was prepared to enforce it.

“We’ll send sanitarians out. We will issue warnings as applicable,” said Poloncarz. “If we continue to see violations in establishments, we will also – if we have to fine again – we don’t want to do that. We just want people to follow the rules.”

The county executive said he is looking into whether individuals can be fined for not wearing a mask inside a public business.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.

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