John Guinn’s decision to require proof from his customers that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 meant an early morning Wednesday for the owner of the Commercial Street Pub.

“I got calls at 7 a.m. with people telling me they weren’t going to come in,” Guinn said. “They said they’re going to go across the bridge” and find a bar in South Portland.

But Guinn said his decision offered him a way around Portland’s mask mandate, which requires customers to wear masks in all indoor public spaces to try to ward off a spike in coronavirus cases that health officials believe is being fueled by the highly transmissible omicron variant. That’s because a clause in the ordinance allows businesses to avoid the mask requirement if they instead require customers to show proof that they have been vaccinated.

Guinn didn’t relish the idea of having to constantly monitor the mask-wearing of his patrons, so he opted for the vaccination approach, posting large signs in his window advising people that they would have to provide proof that they had been vaccinated if they wanted to belly up to the pub’s bar.

Guinn expected to lose some customers over the mandate, which took effect Wednesday and applies only in Portland. He thinks other bars also will see an exodus of customers to South Portland and other neighboring towns where there is no requirement for people to wear masks.

Overall, Guinn said he thinks the requirement “will be a mess.”

One of his regular customers, Michael Lemieux of Portland, said he supports both vaccinations and mask-wearing and had no problem offering proof that he had gotten a vaccination to get into the pub Wednesday, but thinks the requirements should be voluntary.

“Any practical person will agree that we have to have safeguards in place, but that does not mean it should be mandated,” he said.

John Guinn, owner of the Commercial Street Pub in Portland, has begun requiring proof of vaccination for entry because he didn’t want to constantly monitor mask-wearing by his patrons. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

But opposition to the mandate appeared to be the exception Wednesday and observance of the new mandate seemed to be smooth elsewhere in the city.

Just up Exchange Street, Ashley Hart at Treehouse Toys said only a handful of customers came in maskless Wednesday and those that did left quietly and quickly when informed of the city’s new rule. Hart said she appreciated being able to tell customers that the mask was a city requirement, rather than a store request as it had been before the Portland City Council adopted the mask mandate Monday night.

Kyle Kohler at the Hilltop Superette on Munjoy Hill said his experience was the same Wednesday, with almost all of his customers coming in with a mask on and quick compliance among any who had forgotten to put on one.

Patricia Fuller, who was shopping at a CVS pharmacy on Forest Avenue Wednesday, said she had been unaware of the City Council’s action, but she was an eager supporter when told about the new rule.

Fuller noted that she keeps masks on her at all times and has them in every coat and bag she owns so she’s never caught without one.

“For me, there’s no issue,” she said. “It’s a pandemic.”

Fuller believes more people should support wearing a mask and taking other steps to limit the spread of the virus.

“It doesn’t matter what I want it to be,” she said, “it’s a consensus thing.”

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