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Thayer, Ives, Wickenden businesses react to RI mask mandate lifting

Stores, restaurants rely on personal judgment to decide mask requirements

Businesses now decide their masking requirements depending on their comfort level and assessment of public health concerns.

Courtesy of Ethan Kan via Wikimedia Commons
Businesses now decide their masking requirements depending on their comfort level and assessment of public health concerns. Courtesy of Ethan Kan via Wikimedia Commons

Rhode Island lifted the executive order that required indoor masking or proof of vaccination in restaurants or businesses Feb. 11, The Herald previously reported. Now, the decision rests on business owners to enact masking requirements based on their own comfort level and assessment of public health concerns.

While businesses on Thayer, Ives and Wickenden streets had varied reactions to the lifted mask mandate, owners and managers are basing their masking policies on personal concerns and priorities.

For Blue State Coffee at 300 Thayer St, masking requirements are still being decided, according to manager Phil Derr-Hackman.

“We have our own mask requirement that’s still in place that we initially put in response to the mandate, but we’re reluctant to lift it,” Derr-Hackman said. “We’re still deciding whether we want to continue the requirement.”


The cafe’s previous rule was that customers must wear a mask while not actively eating or drinking, but it was difficult to enforce, Derr-Hackman added. “Since the mandate was lifted, it’s become even more awkward because it often turns into a debate.”

Currently, Derr-Hackman sees the decision to require customers to mask as a dilemma — he is torn between avoiding conflicts with customers and prioritizing health and safety.

“On the one hand, these little confrontations that happen over (masking) are unpleasant, and I’d certainly prefer to not have that,” he said. “But on the other hand, the safety concern is real.”

Derr-Hackman said he has been discussing the masking policy with his staff, and that he would prefer that staff continue to mask as they determine the rules for customers. “For me, it's more important that everyone feels safe,” he said. “That’s been my mantra.”

Over at 150 Ives St, Silver Star Bakery continues to require masking indoors. George Ferreira, manager and the son of Silver Star Bakery’s owners, said they are basing this decision on the number of positive COVID-19 cases locally. Within Rhode Island, the most recent peak in cases was 5,369 cases Jan. 11, according to The New York Times. Since then, the number of cases has decreased to a daily average of 380 cases on Feb. 17.

Ferreira felt like the mask mandate was lifted too early, and said they will feel comfortable removing the masking requirement in the bakery once case numbers decrease further. “The numbers don’t lie,” Ferreira said.

Ferreira shared that some customers would enter the bakery without masks, citing that the masking mandate had been lifted, but were largely understanding about the bakery’s masking requirement.

“We kept the sign up just for the safe side, and most customers have been obeying it,” Ferreira said.

Gary D’Amario, owner of City Gardens Flower Shop on 284 Wickenden St., has a sign on the door that indicates unvaccinated individuals must wear masks.

D’Amario noted that he has three COVID-19 vaccinations. But, even if an unvaccinated individual enters the store without a mask, “I don't see it as a threat to me personally,” he said. 


Rhode Island has the highest percentage of vaccinated residents in the country, The Herald previously reported. Because of this, D’Amario said that he is not too concerned about contracting the virus. However, he still prefers that unvaccinated individuals who enter his store wear masks.

“Monday was Valentine’s Day, and there were too many people in the store all day, but most of them were young, student-type people and they all wore masks, so there was no problem,” D’Amario said.

D’Amario said he’s most concerned about the spread of COVID-19 and disease from traveling, especially with the influx of college students after school breaks.

He shared that he is not basing his decision on masks in his shop on the actions of the government of Rhode Island. Instead, he will consider lifting the masking requirement in his shop once other states in New England lift their mandates, he said. 

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“Anybody from Rhode Island is going to go to New Hampshire and Maine and Vermont skiing all winter long,” D’Amario added. “And then you've got to figure out what their mask mandates are.”

A block down, Nostalgia Antiques and Collectibles at 236 Wickenden St. does not have an indoor masking requirement.

“The mask mandate should have been lifted a long time ago,” owner James Fennessy said. Fennessy based his opinion on evidence that vaccines offer protection against severe illness and death due to COVID-19 infection, and the state’s high vaccination rate.

Fennessy said that he doesn’t watch case numbers, and that he does not see COVID-19 as a threat anymore due to vaccination rates.

Local businesses’ responses to the masking mandate being lifted vary based on the personal opinions and priorities of owners, as well as the challenge of avoiding conflict with customers while also creating an environment that employees can feel comfortable in.

“It’s a trade-off. From a customer service perspective, I’m a lot more personable when you can see my face,” Derr-Hackman said. “But we’ve had a few people around get COVID and cause us all kinds of trouble. Fortunately they were vaccinated … but we still need to take precautions.”

Ashley Guo

Ashley Guo is an arts & culture writer and layout designer. She previously covered city and state politics as a Metro section editor. In her free time, Ashley enjoys listening to music, swimming, and reading!

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