Business/Economy

As cases surge, Anchorage businesses and patrons make their own masking policies

With coronavirus cases surging and hospital systems stressed, masks are back on for some Anchorage residents.

Lacking a city or statewide indoor mask mandate, businesses are creating a patchwork of their own individual masking policies. Businesses and patrons say they’re feeling it out on their own, making decisions about whether to mask or not sometimes on a day-to-day, case-by-case basis.

Amid a resurgent coronavirus pandemic driven by the highly contagious delta variant, Washington and Oregon have returned to statewide indoor mask mandates for all people, vaccinated or unvaccinated.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has never enacted a statewide masking mandate. And Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has said he has no plans to require masks.

“I am opposed to mandates masking our residents and our children,” Bronson said.

The mayor is basically in charge of mask mandates, but people have asked whether the Anchorage Assembly could get involved, said Christopher Constant, an Assembly member. Constant said he thought that was not likely. “A lot of people would be very uncomfortable,” he said. Still, “people are asking the question.”

Some businesses say it’s harder to get customers to wear masks without a mandate backing them up.

On Fourth Avenue, Lorette Rose worked inside Tiny Gallery, her shop showcasing the work of local artists. She never stopped requiring masks because the space is, well, tiny, she said. Things were easier when masks were mandated citywide.

“With the mandate, everybody had masks,” said Rose, owner of the Tiny Gallery. “Since it ended, we’ve had masks available for people but there’s just a lot of attitude about wearing it.”

The mandate also saved some tense discussions with customers. The policy was citywide, so there wasn’t much to argue about. Now that it’s a store policy, she finds herself defending it to customers.

But recently, as cases have been rising, people seem more amenable to masking again, Rose said.

Outside Snow City Cafe, Karissa Randall sat with a beverage on a rainy Monday afternoon.

Snow City is a busy Anchorage breakfast and lunch spot where there’s usually a wait for a table, and where masks have been required again for weeks. The cafe’s ownership group, which also operates South, Spenard Roadhouse and Crush, elected to bring back mandatory masking in early August.

“IT’S BAAAACK!” a sign on the door read. “Marks required to enter building. Please don’t come in unless you’re prepared to wear a mask.”

Then, in smaller lettering, “We hate it, too. Don’t fight us. We. Are. Not. In. The. Mood.”

Randall said she lives in the Mat-Su, where masks have been optional since the start of the pandemic. Most people aren’t wearing them, and that hasn’t changed as cases have surged recently, she said.

“There’s signs on a few doors, like if you go to Target, ‘Hey, you should wear a mask, it’d be cool if you did,’” she said. “But most people haven’t followed it.”

Randall said she’s willing to wear a mask if a business asks for it, and has been carrying one with her just in case lately.

“I feel like it’s every business’s right, if they want to require it,” she said.

Down G Street, Darwin’s Theory, a longtime Anchorage dive bar, did brisk afternoon business. Inside, nobody was wearing a mask. They aren’t required, though the bar does sell neon branded ones with the Darwin’s logo, and keeps a stash of disposable masks for people leaving in taxis.

Mask wearing seems to vary widely, said Jennifer Shippee, a bartender.

“Sometimes people walk in with a mask, they’re trying to be respectful, and they look around and realize, OK, other people aren’t doing it,” she said.

Dale Oritz walked out of the Carrs grocery store on Northern Lights Boulevard carrying a bag of groceries. On the door, a sign “strongly encouraged” patrons to wear a mask.

He wasn’t wearing a mask, though he says he isn’t opposed to doing so. He keeps one with him, because some businesses seem to require them, some don’t, and nobody seems to be enforcing rules, he said.

Inside Carrs that day, he’d seen more people masked again.

“Seems like more and more and more people are making that choice,” he said.

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