C/O Mick Haupt
A number of small businesses in Hamilton continue to require masks in their spaces, even after the provincial requirement has been dropped
On March 21, 2022, the province dropped its mask mandate, which had been in place since the early days of the pandemic. Now, masks are no longer required in most indoor settings, including public schools, with few exceptions. This change has also come with the removal of regulatory requirements which were in place for businesses, including the expectation around passive screening and safety plans.
However, a number of small businesses in Hamilton have opted to continue the mask requirements in their spaces. Willard’s Ice Cream is among these businesses, having announced the continuation of the policy on March 22 over their social media.
“Something that I always believed since day one of opening Willard’s is trying to be a safe space for as many people as possible. It's part of the reason why we chose to be a nut free ice cream shop . . . because I felt it’s a small sacrifice to be able to serve and help a larger group of people. So to me that same mindset has just carried on into this: if I can wear a mask to just help even one person feel safe or to protect one person from catching COVID, that's worth it. It's not sacrifice to me,” explained Matt Willard, owner of Willard’s.
Willard has lost a few customers as a result of the decision, but his decision has largely been met with strong support from the community, both online with an outpouring of positive comments on the post and from customers in person who have expressed relief and gratitude
As it’s the slow season for Willard’s, Willard is currently the only employee. He noted if he did have more employees, he would have discussed the policy further with them, with concern for their safety regarding not only COVID-19, but also belligerent customers.
“We did have some aggressive people last summer . . . When you don't have the government support behind you saying it's required, it just means that the argument can go longer and can be more frustrating. In the end, people just hope people will do what's best,” explained Willard.
Many other local businesses also shared the initial post on their stories and took the opportunity to highlight other businesses, including Cake and Loaf and Candi Werx, also opting to continue the masking requirements.
Many more businesses, including the Bard and Bear and the East Hamilton Cheese Company, have also issued statements in the last week that, although they will not be continuing to mandate masking, they are strongly encouraging it their spaces and will continue expect their employees to be masked.
Over the next weeks, these businesses will be continuing to observe the situation and continue to strive to operate in a way that reflects their commitment to fostering safe, welcoming spaces for all community members.
“For us, we are looking at it on a week by week basis of where the numbers are at and what that means . . . I want this to be over. I want to have people in my shop again. I want to have to not wear a mask. I want to see smiling kids’ faces eating ice cream. But . . . I care about people's health more than that. It's hard. I don't think anyone's found this easy [but] it's just the sacrifices to be made for our community and for the people we care about,” said Willard.