Shelton businesses follow honor system on masks

SHELTON - For the Oraziettis - longtime restaurateurs in the city - wearing masks in their pub is a personal choice, until told otherwise by state health officials.

Dan Orazietti - who, along with wife, Linda, owns the popular The Pub on Howe Ave. - said he sees people with and without masks enter his establishment, but in the end, he feels that choice belongs in the hands of the individual.

“It’s up to the customer,” Orazietti, who says he does wear masks at times himself, said. “But at the end of the day, we will always follow whatever comes down from the state.”

As COVID-19 cases waned and vaccination rates rose, businesses were advised that customers who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 should wear masks — a requirement largely left to the honor system.

But with the recent rapid spread of the more contagious Delta variant, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged all Americans to resume wearing masks indoors. But without the return of last year’s statewide mask mandate, some local businesses are leaving it up to the customer.

“It’s a personal choice,” Hagop Jarttian, owner of Shelton Wine and Spirits, said. “I leave it up to the people.”

Jarttian’s business recently reopened in its new location after fire devastated his old shop at the neighboring 475 Howe Ave. Open for a few weeks, he said business has grown back slowly, but he points to being closed for months and people being away during the summer months.

“I don’t see COVID as an issue. I expect to see business pick up as we get into September, October,” Jarttian said. He said he was not concerned about mandatory mask wearing, if it were to be mandated from the state.

In mid-May Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration, thanks to the three vaccines that had been available since winter and a drop in Connecticut’s infection rate and hospitalizations, lifted most of the coronavirus restrictions that had been in place since the health crisis struck in March, 2020.

But the Delta variant in just a few weeks has threatened to upend that return to normal, and many businesses are struggling to adapt to the uncertainty with little help from local and state officials similarly trying to figure out how to react.

Lamont has so far refused to reinstate any of the strict rules that had been aimed at halting the virus’ spread, although he has empowered local officials to establish their own mandates.

“I wear a mask all the time when I am working with a customer,” Jennifer Sneider, owner of J Cuts Barber Shop at 505 Howe Ave., said.

Sneider said that she also basically follows the “honor system,” adding that she is “not checking (vaccine) cards at the door.”

She said the concern remains about future mandates or lockdowns. She has seen her business return at a slower than normal rate, but her regulars are coming back. She said until corporate America - with men getting regular cuts for being in an office setting - goes back to work, her business will not be normal.

Sneider, who can do anywhere from 10 to 21 cuts a day, works alone, and she credits her mother’s teachings for helping her business survive the pandemic shutdown last year and the slow return of customers.

“Thank God, she taught me to budget,” she said, adding that when she was doing well, she socked money away for that rainy day, which turned out to be an 18-month pandemic that is still not over.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com