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As retail chain mandates loom, mask-wearing is the new normal for Upper Valley shoppers

  • Sara Isenor, of Hartland, left, and Marileigh Young, right, of Enfield, put on masks on their way to shop at Pet Smart in West Lebanon, N.H., Saturday, July 18, 2020. The store currently only recommends face coverings, though some major retailers have begun to require them to be worn. “They should be worn for sure,” said Young. “It shows that you care about others,” said Isenor. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 7/18/2020 9:32:20 PM
Modified: 7/18/2020 9:32:18 PM

WEST LEBANON — Shoppers finally appear to be heeding the advice not to leave home without it.

“It” in this case is a face mask, and up and down the shopping plazas along Route 12A the vast majority of shoppers on Friday afternoon were voluntarily covering up on their way into the big box stores and other retail outlets.

That’s good, because beginning this week many major retail chains will require customers to don a face mask before entering their stores, an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, which is surging again this summer after many spring lockdowns were lifted, creating new hot spots and leading to all-time highs in infections.

On Monday, Walmart, Kohl’s, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Walgreens and CVS — all of which have stores along Route 12A — will require customers to wear face masks in stores. They follow Best Buy, Panera Bread, Dollar Tree, Starbucks and Verizon, which all required face masks last week.

Home Depot will require masks for customers beginning Wednesday. And as of Friday, 36 states have issued statewide mask mandates in public, according to CNN, although neither New Hampshire nor Vermont had yet issued similar directives.

A random sampling of customers shopping on Route 12A on Friday afternoon found most willing to comply with stores’ policies, saying face masks were a minor annoyance but one easily outweighed by the need to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Heather Rivers, of Bethel, said while she was loading her vehicle with purchases from Walmart. “I work in health care and I wear one all the time,” said the mother of four whose kids — age 8, a pair of 12-year-old twins and age 15 — all wore masks while in the store.

Rivers, a licensed nursing assistant at Valley Terrace, said she views the face mask as a “courteous and responsible” measure to protect people around her and said she does not understand those who, for whatever reason, protest wearing one.

“It’s not a big deal,” Rivers said. “Just do it.”

Others said they are not thrilled with having to wear a mask to shop inside a store, but they are resigned to it.

“When it’s required I’ll wear one. When it’s suggested, I won’t,” said Richard Wood, who came to Walmart to pick up a prescription. “I carry one,” he said, tapping his front pants pocket.

Wood, of Chelsea, said he didn’t think wearing a face mask was necessary and is “not worried” about contracting the virus. “I think it’s a lot of hype,” he said about fears of becoming infected.

“If we’ve got to wear them, we’ve got to wear them,” said Jim Kinnarney, who had come with his wife, Gloria, from South Royalton to Walmart on a Friday afternoon expedition. “They are even required at Welch’s,” he said, referring to Welch’s True Value Hardware in South Royalton.

Gretchen Moulton, a North Haverhill fitness trainer who was on her way into Kohl’s, said she “supports wearing a face mask. I don’t like it but it’s the smart thing to do ... we’re not entitled to always do as we please” if it risks hurting another.

Newlyweds Richard and Bethany Cox, on a trip to buy sheets for their kids’ beds at Kohl’s, said they just returned from Florida, which has been having a huge surge in coronavirus cases and “everyone is wearing a mask there,” Richard Cox said.

Bethany Cox called masks “a good idea. It seems to be what’s slowing the spread of the virus.”

It’s not only chain retail stores that are now requiring customers to wear masks.

Yiping Weed, owner of Yiping’s Asian Market on Main Street in West Lebanon, began allowing customers inside her market for the first time only last week. A sign on the store announces “masks required,” and Weed is allowing only two customers at a time inside the store and they must use hand sanitizer first that is available at the door.

“If they don’t wear a mask, I won’t let them in,” Weed said, wearing a mask herself. “But they do.”

John Lippman can be reached at or 603-727-3219.

Valley News

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