Anti-mask hostility forces Nelson grocery store to hire security guard for 1st time in 45 years

·2 min read

For the first time in its 45 years, a grocery store in downtown Nelson, B.C., has hired a security guard — and it's not to watch out for shoplifters.

Their job is to head off a growing increase in aggressive behaviour among some shoppers who refuse to wear a mask in the store, since the province announced last Thursday that face coverings are now mandatory in all retail spaces in a bid to control the spread of COVID-19.

Ari Derfel, store manager of the Kootenay Co-op, says while most customers have followed the new regulations, about 10 to 20 per cent of them are refusing to wear a mask and become confrontational when asked to do so.

"Their way of expressing [their argument] can be really aggressive, confrontational and mean to the point that they sometimes try to force themselves into the store without a mask," Derfel told CBC reporter Bob Keating.

"They speak in really demeaning, negative, critical ways to some of our staff and our cashiers."

Some members of staff have broken down in tears and even quit as a result of the vitriol, he said.

Bob Keating/CBC
Bob Keating/CBC

Leannah Fidler, who has worked at the Kootenay Co-op for five years, says she has never seen her workplace like the pressure-cooker environment it is now.

"We're getting a lot of pushback from folks that either don't really believe that [COVID-19] is a real thing, or don't believe that masks are an appropriate way to combat it," she said.

"People are just waiting for an altercation."

Assistant manager Shannon McAllister is pleading with customers to end the verbal abuse toward her staff.

"At the end of the day, we're all just people and we're all trying to do our best and do our jobs," she told Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South.

"Especially people that are working in retail and grocery stores and restaurants ... [they're] doing so at their own risk to provide that service for our community."

Bob Keating/CBC
Bob Keating/CBC

Most shoppers like regular customer Reiko Fujibayashi, who worked at the store for 10 years, have no problem masking up.

"I don't understand why people would personalize something that's a mandate," she said.

Derfel hopes the presence of a security guard will mean some people think twice about trying to get into the store without a mask or abusing staff when they're denied entry.

Listen to Bob Keating's conversation with Kootenay Co-op's staff and customers on Radio West:

Listen to Shannon McAllister's interview on Daybreak South: