With Texans no longer required by law to wear masks in public and businesses now able to operate at full capacity, Tomball and Magnolia business owners are varied in their reactions to navigating the new environment.
“Businesses that I have spoken with are working to address the end of the mandate making certain that their employees remain safe along with being considerate of customers—ensuring a safe and welcoming environment to their establishment,” said Bruce Hillegeist, Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce president, in an emailed statement.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced in early March that he would lift his statewide mask mandate and allow businesses to operate at full capacity starting March 10. Since the announcement, local officials have responded with expressions of support and opposition to the decision.
Many local businesses such as Martha’s Mexican Restaurant, which opened in April 2020, saw losses amid the pandemic’s early shutdowns and subsequent reduced capacities. Co-owner Blanca Luna said the restaurant's first year of business was tough to get through.
“There are times when people don't want to wait until [other customers] finish eating to ... eat, so then we lost half of the business,” Luna said in Spanish. “It was our first year [and] ... many people did not know we were here. ... We hope that this year ... things will be a little better for us.”
According to Sandy Barton, Greater Magnolia Parkway Chamber of Commerce president, allowing businesses to operate at full capacity will help support financial losses felt throughout the pandemic.
“Many of these businesses have been struggling due to the limitation of capacity because they don't necessarily work on margins that were covered by these limitations, and they need their customers to have access to them in order for them to be able to be contributing members of society,” Barton said.
While the ability to operate at full capacity is expected to offer financial gains, some business owners believe the decision was too premature to make. According to an informal survey conducted by the membership-based Texas Restaurant Association in early March, approximately 73% of restaurant owners will continue to require staff to wear masks, while almost 44% of respondents will not require customers to wear facial coverings.
Magnolia Diner business owner Manu Patel said his business also suffered amid the many shutdowns, freezes and restrictions felt in the last year. Despite this, Patel said the requirement actually helped to ease people’s concerns about going out amid the pandemic.
Patel said his staff will continue to wear masks and recommends his customers wear them, too, considering that the eatery serves an older clientele that is more vulnerable to COVID-19.
“I also feel it's a little early in the game to remove the mask mandate, but it's up to people now, so people will, I'm sure, continue to wear them to protect themselves and others,” he said. “[Our] first duty is to protect our staff and second duty is to protect all our customers.”
Despite having to cancel some in-person events at the pandemic’s onset, Comix Cafe business owner Darrin Stringfield said his clientele easily transitioned into wearing masks in store as long as they were still able to get out and play games with friends.
“Our [mask] requirement hasn't changed at all, and so far it's been pretty well received by our customer base as well—they completely understand,” Stringfield said. “Now that it's up to the businesses, that's the route that we've chosen.”
Jack Flagler, Hannah Zedaker and Vanessa Holt contributed to this report.