Michael Suguitan/Sun Staff Photographer

June 9, 2021

Ithaca Businesses Navigate Staff and Customer Safety Post Mask Mandates

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From thrift shops to pizza parlors, Ithaca businesses have tailored their response to the end of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask requirements for vaccinated individuals in various ways to best suit their staff and customers.

Although New York has relaxed its mask mandate, releasing vaccinated individuals from distancing and masking, Ithaca businesses and restaurants have not uniformly adjusted their restrictions. 

Despite the statewide guidelines, private businesses can still decide to enforce their own mandates — some local businesses continue to require masks, while others have done away with the mandate completely, and some fall somewhere in between.

Collegetown Wine and Spirits still requires everyone who enters the store to wear a mask. After consulting his staff, owner Kody Crispell decided that lifting the mask mandate in May was too drastic of a change for the store. 

“Out of an abundance of caution for my employees and the customers, I just felt it was necessary to keep it going a little bit longer,” Crispell said. “I talked to the employees before making a decision, and they all were totally on board with keeping it going for the time being.” 

According to Crispell, customers have been very understanding, and there have not been any conflicts because of the policy so far. While some patrons have entered without masks, the customers have either had a mask in their pocket or taken a free one that the liquor store offers while they shop.  

Other Ithaca businesses have fully adopted the new, relaxed guidelines, but owners have not seen a major dip in mask wearing. 

At Trader K’s, a local used clothing store, fully vaccinated staff and customers are not required to wear face masks, but many still don them while in the store. Customers are not required to show proof of vaccination in order to shop without a mask. 

“Nothing’s really changed,” said owner Karen Sciarabba. “Anyone is welcome to keep wearing a mask if that’s their prerogative, and I feel like most of the customers and my employees are all still wearing their masks.” 

In accordance with the CDC guidelines, Thompson and Bleecker Pizza and Wine Tavern has left mask wearing to the discretion of vaccinated staff and customers but still requires staff to wear a mask if they cannot maintain six feet of distance with customers.

According to owner George Papachryssanthou, many employees feel safe enough to stop wearing a face mask while working at the restaurant. Many have chosen to remove the mask to make breathing in the warm kitchen easier. As a matter of personal comfort, other staff have decided to continue wearing the mask, despite being fully vaccinated.

Although customers can choose whether or not to wear a face mask, according to Pappas, the vast majority have still been wearing them. 

“I think people have become comfortable with the idea that wearing the mask really has just become sort of like an accessory, kind of like how you can’t leave the house without your shirt on,” Pappas said. “I honestly don’t think that there’s been one sale that we’ve made since the CDC released that guidance where a person hasn’t come into the restaurant wearing a mask.”

Luna’s Inspired Street Food has also loosened requirements for vaccinated staff. After submitting proof of vaccination digitally, staff receive wristbands that indicate they are vaccinated. Similar to the other Ithaca establishments, some staff members have continued to wear a mask, while others have discontinued usage. 

“I think it’s preference at this point, and it’s whatever makes the customers comfortable,” employee Nastassjah Williams said.  “If I were to have a customer who wanted me to put [a mask] on, I would definitely put one on to make them feel safe and more comfortable.” 

Unlike the other businesses, Luna’s has seen an influx of maskless customers in recent weeks. Nevertheless, Williams said that the staff feel safe operating under an honor system. 

“I’m seeing a little bit of normalcy happening,” Williams said. “A smile means a whole lot to a lot of people.”