Farmers Fresh Market in Ignacio still doesn’t require face coverings, a violation of state law, but local agencies’ enforcement efforts seem to have stalled.
In July, La Plata County public health and government agencies sent a letter to Farmers Fresh Market in Ignacio threatening legal action if the grocery store didn’t comply with Colorado’s mandatory mask order. No further enforcement actions have been taken in the two months since.
“I have not received any further requests from San Juan Basin Public Health to proceed with any criminal charges or further enforcement steps,” said Christian Champagne, district attorney for the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Farmers Fresh is a community hub and one of the only full-service grocery stores in the area. Store Manager Amos Lee has said mask-wearing should be a person’s choice, not a requirement. Lee did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The stance has prompted demonstrations in support of the store’s position from some community members and concerns about public safety from others.
Months ago, the district attorney and lawyers from La Plata County, SJBPH and the town of Ignacio sent a letter to Farmers Fresh warning of legal action if the market did not comply with Colorado’s mandatory mask law.
That action followed months of phone calls, in-person visits, emails and incident reports as agencies tried to get the store to voluntarily comply.
“The last thing we want to do is force anybody into compliance – we really want voluntary compliance – but I believe we absolutely do have the authority to do that (pursue legal action) within the statutory code,” Champagne said.
The letter listed five possible consequences for failure to comply, including possibly closing the store, misdemeanor charges or suspending its license. Those steps have not been taken, Champagne said.
The law requires public health authorities, in this case SJBPH, to request further action be taken in order for the District Attorney’s Office to take its next steps, but so far, that hasn’t happened, he said. His office is essentially on pause until SJBPH determines whether further action is necessary.
SJBPH declined to comment on the Farmers Fresh case, said Claire Ninde, spokeswoman for the health agency.
Options for enforcing executive orders are more limited under Colorado law than in other states, like New Mexico, Ninde wrote in an email to The Durango Herald.
“So each case demands extensive review at the local and state level to identify the appropriate enforcement tool, depending on the nature and severity of the violation,” she said.
Only one other business, Top That Frozen Yogurt in Durango, has received a similar warning letter from local agencies, Champagne said.
“The vast majority of business operators are taking the right steps to comply with public health orders and protect their employees, customers and vendors,” Ninde said. “SJBPH thanks them for their efforts to keep the community safe. Unfortunately, there are a few operators who believe that they don’t have to follow the same rules as their competitors.”