A shopper enters the Marden’s store in Scarborough on Thursday as stores began enforcing state mask-wearing rules. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

A spot check Thursday at some big box retailers in Greater Portland suggested that such businesses are complying with Gov. Janet Mills latest order that they enforce mask-wearing rules in their premises.

It also appeared that most customers were complying without making a fuss.

Mills this week ordered large stores – those with 50,000 square feet or more – in seven counties and several of the state’s largest cities to begin enforcing an earlier executive order for customers to wear face masks to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. The governor’s face mask rule also applies to restaurants, outdoor bars, tasting rooms and lodging establishments. It took effect Wednesday.

At the Walmart store in Scarborough on Thursday, shoppers lined up at the entrance as the store limited occupancy to no more than 200 customers at a time. Most were wearing face masks as they waited and, inside, they appeared to be keeping them on. The store was noticeably quieter and less congested, with no lines at most checkout aisles.

A couple of shoppers got in the outside line without face masks and were given masks by store employees at the entrance. They put them on before going inside.

At the Marden’s store nearby, shoppers also seemed to be complying with the rule. Many were wearing masks when they got out of their vehicles, although some put them on as they walked to the store and entered. Most took them off as they left.

At the Target store in South Portland, shoppers uniformly wore masks inside and an employee at the entrance was checking customers as they entered. She said she was offering face coverings to any shoppers that arrived without.

Similar face mask-wearing enforcement in other states has produced angry confrontations between shoppers, and with store employees. Retailers in Maine have so far not reported such problems, but Mills only issued the enforcement portion of the mask order Wednesday.

Mask requirements in other states have often been adopted independently by stores despite a lack of any  such mandate by state or local governments. For instance, Costco has had an across-the-board mask requirement for its stores nationwide.

Janice Carroll of Saco carries a shopping bag to her car at Marden’s in Scarborough on Thursday. She said Gov. Janet Mills “did the right thing” by ordering businesses to enforce Maine’s mask requirement. “We are not done with this (pandemic) yet,” Carroll said. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Maine reported 26 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, and one additional death. Overall, there have been 3,486 COVID-19 cases in Maine since the pandemic began, and 111 deaths.

Maine’s rule applies to businesses with more than 50,000 square feet of space, as well as “restaurants, outdoor bars, tasting rooms, and lodging establishments” in Cumberland, York, Hancock, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties, as well as the cities of Bangor, Brewer, Lewiston, Auburn and Augusta.

Waterville was left off the list. Interviews with staff at a few city businesses Thursday showed that some mandate that staff wear masks and take other pandemic precautions, as well as encourage customers to wear them. But many don’t try to force customers to wear masks on the premises.

Silver Street Tavern owner Charlie Giguere said he and his staff are following all the state’s recommendations and requirements.

“We’re doing everything we can, and we take pride in that,” Giguere said.

But he said he doesn’t want to become the “mask police” when it comes to the customers.

“We’re really protecting the guests from us. That’s why we wear the masks,” Giguere said. “But I’m not going to twist anyone’s arm about wearing a mask when they come here. If the state requires us to enforce the mask rule, then we’ll buy a bunch of masks and hand them out.”

Shoppers wait in line to get into the Walmart in Scarborough on Thursday. A couple of shoppers who got in the line without face masks were given masks by store employees at the entrance.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Because of square-footage requirement, the face mask rule doesn’t apply to the “large majority” of Hannaford’s 63 grocery stores in Maine, but the chain is requiring customers to wear face masks anyway, said Eric Blom, spokesman for the company.

Blom said the company posts signs, plays messages over stores’ public address systems and has taken out ads, sent emails and posted on its social media sites about the requirement. If a customer doesn’t have a face mask, Hannaford will supply one, but Blom declined to respond to repeated email questions about whether any customers have refused to wear masks or what store workers would do if a customer refused.

He said store workers are also required to wear face masks if they are medically able to do so.

Seventeen of the 21 Shaw’s stores in Maine are larger than 50,000 square feet and fall under the governor’s order requiring customers to wear face masks, said Chris Wilcox, a vice president of communications for Boise, Idaho-based Albertson’s, which owns Shaw’s.

Wilcox said Shaw’s requires workers and vendors to wear masks and “expect that our customers follow all applicable state and local regulations with respect to face coverings.”

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