CANFIELD — When faced with two customers who pitched a fit about mask-wearing inside Peaberry’s Cafe in Canfield on Monday morning, store owner Chris Pendleton closed early for the day.
The incident shows a crucial weakness in the state’s mask mandate — it makes local business owners the face of the statewide policy and puts them in the middle of the country’s deeply politicized mask debate.
Pendleton said two women walked into the cafe about 15 minutes apart and said they were with a group fighting the mask mandate but refused to identify themselves or their group.
“When I asked, ‘Do you have a face covering?’ Both women started yelling about, was I refusing service to people with medical conditions that can’t wear masks,” Pendleton said.
“I told her I was not harassing her, that I was trying to keep my team safe,” said Pendleton.
Per an order signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohioans are required to wear masks in public where social distancing is not possible staring July 23. Since then, alleged mask violations have prompted at least 123 complaints to Valley county health departments.
Pendleton took to Facebook and wrote: “We are a small business trying to make a living. I'm done with the mask debate. We are closed for the day.”
The post has garnered more than 100 comments from supporters and people pledging to visit the cafe when it reopens.
Risa Graham wrote: “My husband and I are relatively new the area, we've never been here but you bet that will change. The fact that you are doing all that you can to protect yourselves as well as others is commendable !!”
Gina Centofanti wrote: “Could I purchase a gift card over the phone? I’m not going into establishments right now, but I’d love to support you & your efforts to do the right thing.”
According to Peaberry's website, gift cards are $25 with $5 added for free and can be purchased by phone. For details, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pendleton plans to open the cafe Tuesday.
When asked about the incident, Canfield Mayor Richard Duffett said he had not heard about it, but said, "I like Peaberry's, and the governor's been pretty clear that we should be wearing masks ... We're all in this together to beat this pandemic. It seems like these numbers have flared up on us, so I support what the governor is doing. I support what our Mahoning County Public Health Department is doing. They're saying we should be wearing masks."
Since the mandate went into effect, health departments have been inundated with complaints about businesses and customers violating the order. The order itself charges health departments with enforcement, but they can't issue citations. They have to get local law enforcement involved.
Mahoning County Public Health officials would not release complaints that were still open last week, but said “complaints have gone up tremendously.”
Laura Fauss, public information officer at Columbiana County Health District, told Mahoning Matters last week her health district, like others in the Valley, has limited resources given its other pandemic-related duties.
On Monday, Mahoning County Public Health Commissioner Ryan Tekac and Canfield Police Chief Chuck Colucci did not respond to requests for comment.