Retailers are not the ‘bad guys’

Betty BeanFarragut, Knox Scene

Our first year of pandemic isolation is almost a wrap, and the shattered front door at VG’s Bakery is a pretty good symbol of what we’ve endured. (We learned about it the way we find out about most things these days – social media):

“VG’s Bakery in Farragut (next to Kohl’s) is Five Star. Allowed only one person in at a time. Good people. Great products.

They had a woman today that wouldn’t put her mask over her nose when asked. She left, slammed the door & broke it!!

Places like this deserve our support!”

Friendly, welcoming proprietors selling delicious baked goods in a health-conscious environment – what more should we ask of them – or any other retailer? And what should they expect in return?

Actual laws would help. Instead, our legislature is moving to loosen the regulations already in place, based on the assumption that people will voluntarily do the right thing.

A friend I’ve known virtually all her life sent me an email explaining what it’s like to try to make a living in retail. To say that she’s disappointed in our leaders is an understatement:

“To ask a sales associate and mother of two boys to express what 500,000 dead bodies do not already say is beyond comprehension. Let me start by saying that I’ve lived in East Tennessee most of my life. I have two grown sons that attended school here; one is now at UT where I attended myself and my father was a professor. I’m married to a man who owns a business in a nearby county and worked there nearly 45 years before we purchased it several years ago.

“So far, I have lost three family members. My aunt, uncle and one of their two children caught the virus early in the game and lingered for about a month before passing away.”

She wants lawmakers to stop shifting the burden of enforcement onto retailers:

“Make wearing masks mandatory in every public place. Every single place. Every venue, every store, every hospital, every doctor’s office, every business office, every indoor space. Period. We know it helps. Why am I still making this an issue?

“Because everyone is NOT doing it and every person in a public place needs to participate. … While you sit in your ivory towers, protected by money and staff – the rest of us have to go to work to make sure you can get your groceries delivered and your lunch catered. We have to wait tables and load trucks. We have to make sure you can come to the mall and get your lipstick and be sure that you get your hair and nails done. We risk catching the virus, which would cause most of us to lose our homes, cars and any savings that we might be left with after the last year.

“One encounter with an anti-masker could change a person’s entire life and the lives of their families. How are we rewarded? We are rewarded with people screaming in our faces that there is no law that says they have to wear a mask. They yell at us that we are violating their constitutional rights. They call us communists and tell us that it’s a liberal hoax. Their anger spills into our stores and onto the backs of the people just trying to make sure you get your food – your alcohol – your fancy face wash – your special coffees. You have effectively shifted the blame and anger to the lowest-paid workers. You have made us the bad guys and the cops, but given us no leg to stand on. We can say that it’s the store’s policy, but they do not care because they know there is no repercussion.

“What will we do? Toss them out and lose even more money? So, day after day we are at risk. We are scared for our lives from the virus, but also that one of these anger-filled customers is going to explode and hurt one of us. Their aggression is frightening. Their anger is frightening. Most of us go to our cars or back rooms and cry every day. We don’t want to work these jobs anymore. Being in retail is miserable enough, but having to fear for your life and your livelihood makes each and every one of us just want to quit and go home, but we can’t.

“Trusting that people will do the right thing without being forced to is not working. If you think it is working, you should get out more. Go to Gatlinburg and walk into a few stores if you believe that people will do the right thing. Go to Weigel’s or Dollar General if you think we can trust people to do the right thing.

“We are losing the battle and the easiest thing we can do now is make wearing a mask in public 100% enforced. Please help us. We cannot do this alone.”

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for

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