BizWorthy: Cooper's Mask Requirement Could Add Challenges For Businesses

Jun 25, 2020

Beginning Friday evening at 5, North Carolina residents will have to wear face masks in public. Gov. Roy Cooper made that announcement Wednesday. He also said the state will not move into Phase 3 of reopening this weekend. And that means bars, gyms and movie theaters must remain closed. Restaurants will have to continue to limit their dining room capacity to 50%. Those restrictions will stay in place for at least another three weeks.

To see how businesses in Charlotte are reacting to the governor's announcement, we turn now to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: Tony, is the face mask requirement going to hurt businesses that are open?

Tony Mecia: Well, I think it's a little bit early to say, Marshall. I think there's a lot we don't know about that. The governor's position is that by putting these face mask requirements in, that it's actually going to help businesses in the sense that it's going to give people confidence to go out and shop, to go out and eat if they know that it's a place that's safe. I'm not exactly sure whether that's 100% going to happen or not, but I think that's certainly the intention here. Part of the intention, besides the health effects, is trying to create some confidence in the economy. Whether everybody wearing masks because the coronavirus has gotten so bad does that, I think, is an open question.

Terry: How hard is it going to be for businesses to enforce the mask wearing requirement?

Mecia: Well, I think there is a concern among retailers that it puts them in a little bit of a dicey situation. I talked last week with the head of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, and he was concerned that retailers are now being put in this position of having to enforce these government mandates where retailers, the way he described it was, you know, they're already kind of under the gun here. It's a very tough time for a lot of retailers in the sense that their customers haven't returned and they have to do all these kinds of requirements. And now they're going to have to confront potentially customers who don't want to wear masks. And it puts them, he said, in sort of a vulnerable situation. You have a lot of younger workers, a lot of inexperienced workers, maybe teenagers who now, is it their job, he said, to go ahead and confront people who aren't wearing masks? So that could put them in a potentially dangerous situation.

So I don't think businesses are going to be very keen on wanting to enforce this, even if they think that masks or something that should be worn. Their role as an enforcer is not ... I don't think they welcome that.

Terry: Can't businesses get cited or fined if they have customers in their store now who are not wearing masks?

Mecia: Part of the executive order that the governor put out this week said that; yes. That the businesses are going to be the ones that are cited. It's not the customers not wearing the mask who will be cited. It will be the businesses that will be cited for not enforcing those rules.

Terry: As I said, North Carolina is not moving into Phase 3, which means bars, gyms and movie theaters are going to have to stay closed. They've been closed now for about three months. How bad is this for them? I mean, can they stand to be closed any longer without going out of business at this point?

Mecia: I think it's really problematic. I think if you talk to these business owners that they're very distraught about it. You know, they've been closed since March. And they say, listen, we can put in social distancing measures just as well as restaurants can just as well as grocery stores can. Yeah, I think it is a problem. You saw there was a yoga studio this week, Yoga One has locations in Dilworth and Plaza Midwood, that said it's throwing in the towel and it's not going to be able to go on any longer. Permanently going out of business. You've also seen some efforts in Raleigh in the General Assembly among the legislature to try to overturn some of these orders and say, OK, let's let some of these businesses open.

Terry: I want to get to a couple of other items before I let you go. Simon Property Group, which owns some of Charlotte's malls, including Southpark Mall, is looking at buying J.C. Penney. It filed for bankruptcy last month. Is it common for mall owners to also own stores in their malls?

Mecia: Well, I think it's becoming a little bit more common. Simon Property Group is sort of leading the charge on that over the last few years, combined with another mall operator who's bought Forever 21, and Aeropostale, apparel retailer. So they're sort of seeing maybe some advantages to actually owning some of the stores that are in their malls. Now, Simon owns South Park and Concord Mills. There's not a J.C. Penney in either of those malls. But I think this is a trend that you're starting to see. We know that retailers are in a little bit of trouble, especially huge department stores. And so the malls are sort of trying to work something out so that they can not have all these big empty spaces.

Terry: Finally, Tony, there's an update in the ongoing dispute between former Congressman Robert Pittenger and Lending Tree CEO Doug Lebda. The two are neighbors in Quail Hollow. You report that Pittenger is claiming Lebda used a drone to spy on his house?

Mecia: Yes, Marshall. This is an ongoing lawsuit. It's been going on the last couple of years. Pittenger and Lebda are next door neighbors in Quail Hollow by the 15th hole on the golf course there. Pittenger has been complaining in court filings over the last couple of years that Lebda's house is so big -- 15,000 square feet -- and that it looks over his pool, looks into his kitchen and that it's just architecturally inappropriate. An invasion of his privacy. He's been claiming that in a lawsuit that's been ongoing.

The latest filing that came out just last week, Marshall, from Pittenger, said that Lebda had hired some people to use a drone to take photographs last summer of Pittenger's house. And this is all in the context of this lawsuit. I think it was probably, you know, trying to get pictures of the land for the lawsuit. But, you know, it's just sort of this ongoing dispute really between two pretty well-known people.

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