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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

Charlotte-Area Businesses Can Drop Their Mask Requirements, But Are They?

The Trader Joe's in midtown Charlotte has a sign outside the doors saying vaccinated shoppers no longer need to wear face masks.
Jodie Valade
The Trader Joe's in midtown Charlotte has a sign outside the doors saying vaccinated shoppers no longer need to wear face masks.

It's been a week since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced fully vaccinated Americans can go without masks indoors. Soon after that announcement, Gov. Roy Cooper lifted the mask mandate in North Carolina for most indoor settings, including businesses. So how are Charlotte area businesses responding? Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter talks to WFAE's "Morning Edition" co-host Marshall Terry for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: Tony, for much of the past year, you and I talked about the challenges businesses have faced trying to enforce the mass mandate. Last week's announcements were welcome news, I take it, right?

Tony Mecia: Yeah, I think so, Marshall. A lot of these businesses are very eager to get customers back in the doors. Some of the smaller companies, I think you saw drop that requirement very quickly. I saw a shop over the weekend, it had a sign on that said "masks not required."

Some of the larger companies, though, took a little bit longer. And this week what we've seen is more and more companies really moving in that direction. Starbucks and Publix were kind of early out of the gate this week. Kroger, the parent company of Harris Teeter, said no masks are required if you're vaccinated. So I think we're really seeing a lot of companies moving that way now, and I think that's only going to continue.

Terry: And, of course, those updates from the CDC and Gov. Cooper say that vaccinated people can go maskless indoors. Can businesses legally check to see if their customers are vaccinated?

Mecia: Yeah, a lot of them just aren't doing that. We all have the cards, if you've been vaccinated. But the businesses don't want to be in the business of checking those.

The other dirty little secret, I think on a lot of these retailers, Marshall, is that a lot of their own employees are not vaccinated. And so, to suddenly drop mask requirements in an environment where there are employees that haven't been vaccinated, I think that's another wrinkle to it.

Terry: Let's stick with businesses for a moment. Many of them are having trouble hiring right now. What are they saying is the reason for that?

"Help Wanted" signs are becoming more common these days.
Chris Miller
"Help Wanted" signs are becoming more common these days.

Mecia: Well, a lot of them aren't exactly sure. They just sort of see what they see.At The Ledger, we talked toa number of businesses in the last week or two that they are seeing fewer qualified applicants. And then a lot of times, oddly, they say that once they start getting through that process of interviews and even job offers, that people just sort of mysteriously drop out. We had one business owner tell us, "People just start ghosting me."

And so the speculation is that to get unemployment benefits, which have been enhanced through recent COVID legislation at the federal level, that people are applying for jobs because they have to do that, but then not following through. So businesses aren't saying for sure that's what's happening. They think that's part of it. They also think maybe people are still not quite ready to come back into work because of health concerns or what have you. So they're seeing a number of different things.

Terry: And to deal with this problem, you report that some places are taking new approaches to reach potential new employees. Like what?

Mecia: Well, it was really interesting. Traditionally, a lot of places, the workers have kind of come to them. Now, they're being a lot more creative in how they're going out and recruiting people. We talked to RAM Pavement Services, which is a construction company, and we talked to the owner there and he said what he does is he started putting what's known as "geofencing" — using digital ads that are located in areas where construction workers go. So that if you're in a certain area, you'll see an ad that says, "Oh, we're now hiring for construction workers." So they're doing that.

We talked to Social Pet Hotel & Daycare, which provides all kinds of boarding and grooming services for dogs. They said they have a fund where their workers will go out to other companies that do dog grooming. And if the dog groomer's friendly, they'll hand them a business card and say, "Hey, Social Pet's hiring. You should look us up." So they're being a little more creative in how they go out and reach people in a time where they're not getting quite as many quality applicants as they would like.

Terry: Let's move on to some development news now. A 26-story apartment tower is being planned along Morehead Street in Charlotte's Dilworth. That's an unusually tall building for that area, isn't it?

Mecia: Yes. I guess this is really more sort of on the fringes of Dilworth, it's more by the Dowd YMCA side, the uptown side. So it's not Latta Park or in the middle of Dilworth, but it is a pretty big tower. The Observer reported some of the details on this this week: 26 stories, more than 600 apartments.

You're seeing uptown and South End sort of spilling into some of these adjacent neighborhoods. Residential is pretty hot right now. You're getting a lot of new towers and a lot of new apartments to accommodate all this growth that Charlotte's seeing.

The Penguin's iconic sign still stands at its old building site in Plaza Midwood.
The Penguin's iconic sign still stands at its old building site in Plaza Midwood.

Terry: Finally, Tony, it looks like a beloved Charlotte restaurant is coming back: The Penguin. What can you tell us?

Mecia: Sure. The Charlotte Business Journal reported, Marshall, that The Penguin — which was a well-known fixture in Plaza Midwood for a very long time and closed, I don't know, maybe 10 years or so ago — it now is trying to be revived.

The owner of Leroy Fox and RuRu's Tacos + Tequila has a site on East Boulevard in Dilworth where he's hoping to bring back The Penguin name and some of The Penguin magic with a menu that includes burgers, fried pickles. The Penguin was known for fried pickles as well as po'boys. And then some interesting twists, too — also, they said some Asian food, including ramen. So, mixing it up a little bit in the plans for a revival of The Penguin.

Terry: All right, Tony, thank you.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.