St. Charles Leaves Businesses to Deal With Anti-Maskers on Their Own


The owners of Sweet Poppins in St. Charles say they had to call police on a woman who flipped out over their mask policy. - STEVEN DUONG
  • The owners of Sweet Poppins in St. Charles say they had to call police on a woman who flipped out over their mask policy.

A St. Charles popcorn shop’s mask policy has angered some customers. One pushed items off the counter and threatened an employee and another called an employee a bitch.

Owner Erica Priest says she had to call the police on the woman who threw around company property. The St. Charles Police Department responded to the disturbance on August 5 and arrested the woman after she left the store, according to the incident report.

“She was being very abusive and was not leaving,” Priest says. “She was continuing to yell and throw things.”

Priest started insisting on masks inside her store Sweet Poppins on Memorial Day weekend, when she reopened after shutdowns due to COVID-19. Customers complied with the mask policy at first because of the unknowns of the coronavirus, she says.

Four months later, Priest says a handful of shoppers do not want to wear a mask inside the store. The city and county of St. Charles remain without a mandatory mask mandate for public places and local businesses, leaving it up to owners like Priest to make their own mandate if they choose to.

Priest’s husband and Sweet Poppins co-owner Bryan Priest asked city and county leaders to implement a mask mandate for St. Charles County in an open letter to government officials.

“Enforcement of public health and safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Bryan Priest wrote in the letter. “It should also be a primary concern of state and local governments. If someone walks into our store pantsless, we don’t allow it while chalking it up to constitutional rights of free expression.”

City of St. Charles Mayor Dan Borgmeyer responded to the open letter by claiming mandates in St. Louis and St. Louis County have had little effect.

“They have had mandatory mask mandates since July 3 to no apparent progressive avail,” Borgmeyer wrote earlier this month in an email conversation obtained by the RFT.

On September 11, two days prior to that email, St. Charles County passed St. Louis city in total COVID-19 cases. As of Thursday, St. Charles County has had 8,796 people test positive for the virus and St. Louis city has had 7,298. St. Louis has recorded 200 deaths to 136 in St. Charles County. St. Louis' cases per 100,000 is slightly lower than St. Charles County.

Borgmeyer suggested in another email that a mask mandate across the county would not change the struggle to enforce the policy inside businesses.

“You think if we have a mandatory mask order that those folks won’t be angry or verbally abusive?” Borgmeyer wrote. “Or I guess they’ll be angry and verbally abusive to the city, county and state.”

In an interview, Borgmeyer says a mask mandate is not enforceable in the city or the county and it would not prevent incidents of angry customers such as the ones that have happened at Sweet Poppins.

“I thought the Sweet Poppins thing was an isolated, inappropriate example of what this whole thing is about,” Borgmeyer tells the Riverfront Times.

Borgmeyer says he strongly encourages the use of masks, as does St. Charles County. However, he claims information about the effectiveness of masks is inconclusive, and he's against forcing people to wear them. In the early days of the pandemic, public health experts offered conflicting guidance on masks. That has changed as they've learned more. The country's top infectious disease experts now agree that widespread use of masks is an important part of slowing the spread of the virus and saving lives. The White House has warned in multiple reports that Missouri is one of the country's hotspots for new cases and has repeatedly said a mask mandate could make a big difference.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people wear masks “in public settings and around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

Borgmeyer says he received about 300 emails from residents concerning masks. Half of them asked him to mandate masks, he says, and the other half asked him to not impose a policy.

Erica Priest says the majority of her customers are OK with wearing a mask in the store. For the handful that aren’t, she says, she feels small businesses should have the support from elected officials.

Missouri Senator Bill Eigel (R-Weldon Spring), who represents much of St. Charles County, including where Sweet Poppins is located, declined to comment on mask requirements. Eigel attended the 1776 Freedom Tour USA in St. Peters on September 12, where hundreds gathered to “motivate and encourage people in taking a stand against tyranny and oppression of their constitutional freedoms in all forms” according to the St. Charles County GOP website.

Eigel posed for a photo with fellow county leaders and attendees who were crowded together in the background. Almost all those in the photo do not have a mask on.

Fellow Missouri senator Dr. Bob Onder, who also represents St. Charles County, posted the photo on Twitter following the event. Onder said in a St. Charles County Council meeting on July 13 he believed in the effectiveness of masks. He added he did not believe masks were necessary in all situations. Onder did not respond to requests for comment.

St. Charles County Councilman Joe Brazil, who also attended the rally, says he does not believe masks prevent the spread of COVID-19 despite the CDC’s recommendations. Brazil, who has served on the council since 2000, says he and his wife will not enter a store if there is a mask requirement imposed by the owners. He suggested not having any restrictions for citizens when asked how to help local businesses.

“Lift all our restrictions and let people do whatever,” Brazil says. “The whole social distancing and all this stuff is a farce.”

Erica Priest says she feels that wearing a mask in her store is about respecting others while in public during COVID-19.

“It’s just as if you were going into someone’s home and just respecting their rules,” she says.

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