BizWorthy: Cooper’s Tighter Mask Mandate Focuses On Big Box Retailers
Some businesses in North Carolina face new coronavirus restrictions heading into the holiday season under an executive order issued by Gov. Roy Cooper this week, stores with more than 15,000 square feet must have workers stationed at entrances to make sure customers are wearing masks. Those workers also have to ensure store capacity does not exceed a cap of 50%. For more, we turn now to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.
Marshall Terry: Tony, why is the governor focusing on businesses with 15,000 square feet or more? These are those big-box retail stores, right?
Mecia: Well, they're big department stores. It also includes most grocery stores. Marshall, you know, 15,000 square feet is going to cover your Harris Teeters, your Publix, your Food Lions. You know, it's really focused on some of these larger areas where you would have more people coming in. And, you know, it's really, I think, an attempt by the governor to put some teeth into this mask mandate, making sure that everybody in these stores is wearing masks, upping the consequences to retailers and customers if they're not. I think the thinking is that you're focusing on the bigger ones because that's where more people are. And, that also those retailers and those stores, they have the resources to be able to enforce that in a way that maybe a small shop might not.
Terry: Now, I assume some of these stores, if not all of them, have not been enforcing the mask mandate so far. That's why the governor felt the need to issue these tighter restrictions. So why haven't they been enforcing the mask mandate? Because we've had a mask mandate for a couple of months now.
Mecia: Yeah, I mean, you know, retailers say it's very hard for them to enforce it because were at the point now where nine months in on this pandemic and if someone walks into the store and is not wearing a mask, they probably have some pretty strong feelings about not wearing that mask. And they don't want to put their employees in the position of confronting those people, getting in big confrontations, having to call the police, that sort of thing. So stores have kind of... they want to encourage, but they don't want to confront and make a huge deal out of it. And so it's a little bit of a balancing act here between what the governor wants for public health and what the retailers say they're actually able to do.
And so the other part of it is, Marshall, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police did come out and they said, you know, they are going to continue. Their posture has always been, "We want to educate first and enforce as a last resort." So that's sort of their posture. So I don't know that we're really going to see a whole bunch of stores side unless they repeatedly, repeatedly refused to enforce this.
Terry: Well, I want to stick with some of those big-box stores for a second. You report this week that the last full-service Sears in the Charlotte region is closing. Where is it? And is this because of the pandemic that it's closing?
Mecia: Yeah, I mean, I'm sure the pandemic hasn't helped Marshall, but Sears has been in decline over the last couple of decades at least. It's really amazing to kind of think of the transformation from the world's largest retailer to a point where it was in bankruptcy, merged with Kmart. You know, this last store in the Charlotte area was in Concord, at Carolina Mall. And, you know, it's just really sort of a reminder, I think, that, you know, companies that at one time are really dominant they can over time become much less dominant and others rise and take their place.
Terry: Tony, a crew over the weekend finished putting up the Truist sign on the old Hearst Tower uptown. Now, quick reminder, Truist is the new bank that was created through the merger of BB&T and SunTrust. Some people took to social media to pan this new sign. Why?
Mecia: Well, Marshall, Truist has been trying to make its mark here in Charlotte. It moved the headquarters here. Combined the two companies of SunTrust and BB&T, bought the old Hearst Tower for $456 million dollars earlier this year. And now it's putting signs up and put up signs in the last week on the four sides of its building. A lot of people don't like them. They say it covers up the art deco design of a signature Charlotte bank tower and that it's not really in character with the building. Truist has also put in some lights along the side of the building that can change colors. And a lot of people don't like those. I think it's just people complaining whenever you have a change to the skyline.
Terry: Finally, it's that time of year when people want to head to the mall to shop and have their kids get a photo with Santa. And of course, Black Friday is tomorrow. You report that photo op with Santa, though this year is going to be a little different with the pandemic. So what's going on?
Mecia: Yeah, Marshall, I went out this last weekend. I didn't personally visit Santa and tell them what I wanted. But, you know, see what the scene was like at some of these malls and at South Park Mall, it was the first weekend there. Santa was sitting on a couch and the kids were four or five, six feet in front of him, sitting on some large presents. And so they're socially distanced. Everybody's wearing masks. They do recommend that - they strongly recommend -that you have reservations to see Santa this year. Although another alternative, Marshall, is the same company that schedules the Santa in all the malls is also offering a VIP Zoom option, which you can tell Santa what you want face to face over the computer and those packages start at $99.
Terry: All right, Tony, we will leave it there this week. Thank you.
Mecia: Thanks, Michael. Happy Thanksgiving.
Terry: Happy Thanksgiving. That's Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.