Some businesses want masks on, even as states drop mandates

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FILE - A man leaves a convenience store while wearing a required face mask in Houston, in this Thursday, June 25, 2020, file photo. Although nearly a fifth of U.S. states don't require people to wear masks to protect against COVID-19, some businesses are requiring employees and customers to be masked on their premises. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

NEW YORK – Several weeks have passed since Texas ended its COVID-19 mask mandate. But if you want to pick up a snack at Soul Popped Gourmet Popcorn in Austin’s Barton Creek Square Mall, you’ll still be turned away if you aren’t wearing a face covering.

“We cannot afford to take chances with the lives of my staffers. They’re young people and their parents have entrusted me with their care,” says owner De J. Lozada. She’s also concerned about her 85-year-old father, who will soon return to his part-time job in the store.

Eighteen states currently have no mask requirements, including some that have never made face coverings mandatory. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifted his state’s mask mandate on March 2, and Indiana expects to end its mandate on Tuesday.

But many business owners like Lozada are keeping their own rules in place, requiring staffers and customers alike to wear masks for the sake of protecting everybody, particularly their employees.

And the law is on an owner’s side. A company’s premises are private property, so owners can insist that customers wear masks, just as restaurants can require that diners wear shoes and shirts in order to be served, says Michael Jones, an attorney with the law firm Eckert Seamans in Philadelphia.

“Storeowners, business owners have the absolute right to require customers, vendors, anyone who comes onto their property to wear a mask,” Jones says. It’s legal as long as owners don’t enforce their requirements in a discriminatory way, he says.

If a customer enters a store without a mask, is asked to leave and doesn’t, that could be trespassing under the law. Lozada says she would call 911 if faced with that situation.

Most retail chains require employees and customers to wear masks. One exception, Foot Locker, says each store is following the requirements of the state where it's located.