Local business groups and associations across California report a massive bump in business during the first weekend without indoor mask restrictions, defying expectations and putting additional pressure on the handful of counties currently trumping the revised state policy.
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Last week, the state lifted it’s mandatory indoor mask mandate following a massive drop in COVID-19 cases since early January and increased calls to end the mandate. While the mandate lifting doesn’t apply to the unvaccinated or to certain places with high vulnerability such as nursing homes, it still covers most Californians not currently in the few counties, such as Los Angeles County, that still have a local mandate law in effect.
Many local small business leaders had only been anticipating a small bump in business this week due to the mandate being removed after the lucrative Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day dates. Instead, excitement over the mask ban being over brought many out.
Fresno restaurants reported filled restaurants during the weekend, with San Diego businesses reporting a rough 25% rise in customers. Foot traffic also went drastically up, with business owners in Palm Springs, Bakersfield, and Eureka telling the Globe of unexpected tourists and customers coming out.
“It reminded me of a pre-COVID time,” said Sean Duffy, a small business owner and leader of a block of businesses in Bakersfield, to the Globe on Monday. “Better than that. Our street, plus others around it, were just not getting a lot of people coming out with the mask mandate in place. And that included last week with the Super Bowl and the nearby Rams in it. But this weekend brought more people out. Some nice days there helped, but the big pull, at least from us asking people, was the mandate being lifted.”
“Some didn’t even know it was lifted, and when we told them, they yanked it off right there in the store. There’s no official figures or anything like that, but I’d say 20%, 30%, even a little more than that above previous weeks and about where we were this time in 2019 and 2020 right before the coronavirus came.”
Palm Springs business owners told the Globe a similar figure, but also noted that the number may be higher.
“Places checking for the vaccination card or proof saw a lot of people leave,” said restaurant manager Carla Valdes in a Globe interview. “A lof of people thought that the end of the mandate was for everyone, and they got a reality check at many places.”
“It wasn’t a lot of people by any means, but it was significant enough to be something of a dent. Much of this increased customer traffic are unvaccinated it seems, excited to be going out maskless now.”
The end of the mandate also applied to employees, who were also excited to go without masks for the first time in nearly two years.
“I think we’re seeing more positive business. I think the customers are happier, a little less pressure for them,” said Fresno restaurant owner and local California Restaurant Association President Raul Gutierrez Jr. on Monday. “The employees have been the happiest of all. A lot are ecstatic they don’t have to wear masks anymore. They no longer feel like they have to be the “mask police”. We still do have a few employees in masks, and we’re comfortable with that, too. Whatever makes them feel safer, we encourage that.”
“We feel like we’re in a good place, and we hope we can keep it going. I think right now we’re in a happier place. We’ll just see if it lasts.”
Mandates are expected to continue to be eliminated and removed across the state in the upcoming weeks. Los Angeles schools are to remove their outdoor mask mandate on Tuesday, with an announcement on the statewide school mask mandate expected on February 28th.
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