Farmers Fresh Market supporters rallied outside the Ignacio grocery store Saturday in a show of support for the store’s free-choice mask-wearing policies.
The store has received a legal warning from La Plata County authorities for flouting the state’s mandatory mask order. Gov. Jared Polis issued the executive order in July to help reduce coronavirus transmission. On Saturday, community members weighed in with a vote of support for Farmers Fresh.
“I’m very, very thankful for it. I think now is the time to make your voice heard one way or another,” said Amos Lee, the store’s general manager.
Farmers Fresh is one of the only full-service grocery stores in the area, drawing customers from all around eastern La Plata County. In more normal times, it has a community feel, sourcing food as locally as possible, providing free water to community members and carrying the state’s food assistance program, Double Up Food Bucks. The store also provides masks for people who want to wear them.
But Farmers Fresh continues to violate a public health order intended to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. It received a warning letter for “failure to wear required face coverings about the mouth and nose, either by management, staff or the public during indoor operations” in July.
That’s after multiple notices from county, law enforcement and public health authorities, and 14 complaints from the public.
The warning letter listed five possible consequences for failure to comply, including possibly closing the store, misdemeanor charges or suspending its license.
More than 40 people joined the rally Saturday, carrying signs and cheering when passing drivers honked or gave a sign of support. They plan to hold another rally this coming Saturday, Lee said.
“People feel like freedoms are being infringed upon. It’s not something that is optional or suggested. It’s top-down mandated,” Lee said.
But the store’s compliance issues have been a source of tension in the community – while many support Farmers Fresh, not everyone feels comfortable about its policies.
The rally came after a Board of Trustees meeting Aug. 17 in which the majority of speakers supported the store. Of the first 15 speakers during a public comment period, 13 supported Farmers Fresh, one supported the requirement and one asked a general question. Town staff members said the trend held true for most speakers during the hourlong public comment session.
Most people said a mask requirement is an infringement on rights, and people should have a choice and questioned the constitutionality of the governor’s order.
Julie Eisenmann, who lives near town, supported the mask requirement.
“It’s unfortunate that they have chosen to do this, but it’s the store’s choice,” Eisenmann said. “You guys (town trustees) should be applauded for standing up for what’s right and what you have sworn to do.”
In an interview with The Durango Herald, Ron Schermacher, who works in Ignacio, said he is a loyal customer and a supporter of the store, but he does not agree with its mask policy.
“Everyone got along before they decided to willfully defy this order,” Schermacher said. “If they (rally attendees) want to support the store, they should wear a mask to make sure the authorities don’t close it down.”
firstname.lastname@example.orgEditor’s note: An earlier version of this story erred in saying Ron Schermacher stopped shopping at Farmers Fresh.