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Local businesses talk change in policy as state prepares to lift mask mandate

With the widespread distribution of vaccines, normalcy is on the horizon.

Buffalo Exchange sign reads "Masks Required!"
A sign requiring masks for employees and customers of resale fashion store Buffalo Exchange in Brookline. The store will continue its mask policy after the Massachusetts statewide mask mandate is lifted May 29. CONOR KELLEY/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier this month that vaccinated individuals can begin socializing without masks . Massachusetts is following their suggestion and lifting the statewide mask requirement this Saturday.

As Massachusetts prepares to drop its mask mandate and other COVID-19 restrictions Saturday, business owners are deciding how to adapt their social distancing and mask requirements.

Boston-area ice cream parlor chain J.P. Licks is currently implementing safety protocols such as closing indoor dining, placing floor markers six feet apart and pausing previous practices such as offering samples and refilling reusable coffee mugs. Everyone is also currently required to wear face masks.

However, Adele Traub, the marketing manager of J.P. Licks, said all of the chain’s 17 locations plan to resume normal activities — such as indoor dining and free samples — starting Saturday. Fully vaccinated employees and customers will no longer be required to wear masks.

Traub said anticipated challenges to implementation include trusting customers about their vaccination statuses and enforcing mask requirements for children under 12, who are currently ineligible for any COVID-19 vaccine.

“We just hope people are going to be looking out for each other and being honest about it,” she said. “We get a lot of kids in the store … [It] might be tough for kids under 12 to keep their masks on when adults around them aren’t.”

Carrot Flower — a plant-based cafe and juice bar in Jamaica Plain — also plans to reopen indoor dining starting Saturday, with safety precautions such as serving food in disposable containers

Willa Nesoff, a Carrot Flower employee and College of Arts and Sciences rising sophomore, lives in Jamaica Plain and has been working at the cafe since high school. She said she is unsure how customers will act going forward.

“I’m interested to see what exactly happens,” she said, “because I bet that we will have people that come into our store not wearing a mask which per mandate is allowed.”

Nesoff said she thinks employees will only have limited authority over customers if their behavior “oversteps very specific boundaries” or they are “threatening [employee] personal safety.”

“I think it will feel very strange if I am wearing a mask, and no one else in the store is,” she said. “It’s dependent on other people’s behavior and what they choose to do, but also, who knows? Maybe that will feel super normal very soon.”

Despite this uncertainty, Nesoff said that she trusts her boss to prioritize employee safety.

Buffalo Exchange, a buy-sell-trade resale fashion store, also enforces a variety of safety guidelines, such as following regular cleaning protocols, allowing sales only by appointment, offering contactless payment options and requiring masks for customers and employees.

In an email, Buffalo Exchange marketing associate manager Jessica Pruitt said the overall experience of thrifting at their Boston locations in Brookline and Somerville has continued throughout the pandemic.

“Overall, our customers have talked about how safe they feel shopping and selling in our stores,” Pruitt wrote. “It’s basically the same fun shopping experience, but with safety protocols like masks and social distancing.”

Buffalo Exchange plans to continue to require customers and employees to wear masks even after the ending of the statewide mask mandate, she wrote.

“At this time, we still require masks to be properly worn by customers and employees,” Pruitt wrote. “We’ll be closely monitoring official health guidelines over the following weeks before making any changes to our current safety protocols.”

J.P. Licks is ready to return to in-person dining because a large aspect of the company is the family fun atmosphere off each of their locations, Traub said, adding that the restaurant is “just a great place to sit and create memories.”

“We’re just really, really excited to see our customers again in the store and … love being a part of people’s family and friend experiences,” Traub said. “We just really hope that people who can get vaccinated do just to keep everybody safe.”

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