Tonya Smothers of Stylz 4 Less in Biddeford said she offers masks to people who come into her store if they’re not wearing one. Last week, Mayor Alan Casavant and the City Council issued a proclamation urging people to wear masks in public.  Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — Tonya Smothers is the owner and sole employee of her men’s and women’s clothing shop Stylz 4 Less, on Jefferson Street in Biddeford. She, like other retailers, is doing her best to keep the doors open during the pandemic. If she were to become ill, as she did a year ago when she had to close the store for a month, it would take a financial toll.

Katie Pinard, who owns Elements, a coffee, book, and beer venue on Main Street in Biddeford, worries about the health of her staff of  about 14 people. “I work side by side behind the bar with staff and I was starting to feel panicky about people coming in without masks,” Pinard said. So, these days, face coverings are required in Elements and also by some other shop owners in the city.

Now, city leaders are asking everyone to mask up – and to exercise patience when facing the challenges wrought by the pandemic.

“It is important we have this proclamation  so the local businesses know we are on their side and we are trying to do something to ensure they are safe and can stay open,”  said Mayor Alan Casavant, who issued a proclamation on behalf of himself and the City Council on Jan. 18.

A sign outside Elements on Biddeford’s Main street last week notes that cafe seating had been temporarily suspended, and that face coverings are required for entry. Tammy Wells Photo

The proclamation notes that the renaissance in Biddeford has created “tremendous pride and joy within the community,” and has centered on the uniqueness and desirability of new and old businesses that make the community special.

It speaks to residents and their value and support of local shops, restaurants and businesses that remain open and prosperous, and the desire “to keep friends, neighbors, employees, shoppers, diners, healthcare workers and others” healthy.


The proclamation urges residents and visitors to:

“Wear appropriate masks in all public settings, in solidarity with our businesses and neighbors, to protect those around us and help to ensure that the businesses and organizations that we cherish have the healthy staff needed to operate, to produce their products and goods, and to provide the services that we all cherish and value.”

“We further urge all residents and visitors, in your relationships and interactions with others, to be patient and understanding of the challenges this pandemic imposes on everyone that are beyond our control, so that our community can prosper, not only financially, but also emotionally, as the pandemic continues to disrupt our lives, our jobs, our education, our relationships, and our hopes. Together we are stronger.”

Casavant noted that there are mask mandates in some communities, citing Portland, Brunswick, and others, but preferred a proclamation for Biddeford.

“I feel enforcement is a problem,” he said prior to reading the proclamation, “If you have a mask mandate, who enforces it? … either the police department or a store manager, and you have a confrontation situation and that can go either way.”

City councilors in Belfast, in the Midcoast, agreed to draft a proclamation last week, after first contemplating a mask mandate, according to the Republican Journal newspaper.


Casavant  at the Jan. 18 meeting, said he has been made aware over the last couple of weeks of businesses expressing concerns about the health of their staff, of maintaining staff, keeping staff working, and costs of masking and testing.

“Most of these businesses don’t make a lot of money — they make enough to get by but they’re not oozing in cash,” the mayor said.

At Nibblesford, a shop on Washington Street that sells a variety of cheeses, beer, wine and sundries, there is a sign on the door that says masks are required for all customers.

Brothers Ian and Travis Kern are proprietors and sole employees.

“We put the sign up about two weeks ago,” said Ian. “Before that, about 80 percent of customers were wearing masks.”

Since the sign went up, only a couple of people have entered without one — one person did not see the sign, and the other put one on when asked, the brothers said.


They said they have had no difficulties with their mask requirement, and pointed out that if either, or both fell ill, it could impact their business.

Next door, at the retail store Suger, head of operators Leslie Smith said mask wearing is encouraged; and she pointed out that Suger adopted a design and began manufacturing masks at its mill production facility in Biddeford in 2020.

“If people come in and see us wearing one, they said, ‘I forgot,’ and put one on,” she said.

Smith said she has heard of people challenging mask requirements elsewhere “but that’s not been my experience.”

“We’re committed to each other and taking all precautions we can,” she said.

Smothers said generally, people aren’t wearing masks when they enter her store, and so she offers them. Most people are nice about it, she said, though sometimes, a customer might say something like “don’t you want business?”


Pinard, of Elements, said her shop is among those requiring staff to be vaccinated and boosted, and except for a brief period in the late spring of 2021, prior to the emergence of delta and omicron variants, has required face coverings for staff and customers.

“We’re very, very lucky with our customer base,” said Pinard. “Most of the time we have no problem whatsoever. Every so often, someone throws a little fit, but it’s not escalated.”

The temporary halt to cafe seating has helped, she said.

Pinard said all staff were required to have a PCR test when the shop reopened after the holiday break, and she tries to keep rapid tests on hand — though they are scarce and pricey. She said she feels it is her responsibility to make the tests and proper masks available and is looking to the city for help in that regard.

“I’ve been advocating to the city for last month,” for support for testing and supplies like masks, whether that translates into a bulk purchase or a grant program, she said.

As are the others, Smothers is looking ahead with hope that better days are ahead.

“I want this whole thing to go away as much as anyone else, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, until it does,” she said.

At Suger, Smith said, the 20-25 people who work at the Biddeford and Portland retail shops and at the production facility want to be as careful as they can.

“We’re grateful to be open and welcoming people,” Smith said.

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