Tri-State Outfitters in Moscow temporarily closed its store Thursday after 25 to 30 customers refused to put on masks when asked by the store’s staff, Tri-State Outfitters President and CEO Joe Power said.
Power said the maskless group visited the store in an organized manner and that the gathering stemmed from a Facebook post from Christ Church Pastor Doug Wilson to a private group called “De-Mask Moscow.”
Part of the post read: “During this time of COVID restrictions, a number of merchants are caught between the demands of the city government and the financial realities of keeping a business open. What I am doing here is not coordinated with anybody, but I have reason to believe it will not be unwelcome to the people involved. So if you are out Christmas shopping today (without a mask), I would like to ask you to hit Tri-State between the hours of 11 am and 1 pm. For maximum effect, try to make it as close to 11 as you can.”
Wilson said in a text message to the Daily News Thursday night he encouraged people to shop at Tri-State Outfitters in response to a Moscow Chamber of Commerce postcard sent last week encouraging people to shop local and because he heard Tri-State Outfitters was facing challenges.
“A bunch of us did (shop), or tried to, someone complained, and corporate headquarters decided to close the store,” Wilson texted. “Truly unfortunate. It was not a protest (although we do those too) or a stunt.”
To defuse the situation Thursday, store manager Jennifer Laferriere, with direction from Power, announced over the store’s intercom that Tri-State Outfitters was temporarily closing. Laferriere asked maskless customers to leave and masked customers could pay for the items they had at the register.
“It was concerning to us, because we definitely want to think about the health and safety of our employees and customers,” Power said.
Laferriere said people complied and left the store but a few had long conversations with store employees before leaving. The 25 to 30 maskless people who left wished employees a merry Christmas, which is what Wilson asked participants to do in the Facebook post.
Laferriere said she called the Moscow Police Department to make it aware of the situation and asked officers to be present in the parking lot in case people refused to leave after the announcement was made.
Although the store closed to all customers for about 25 to 30 minutes starting around 11:20 a.m., the front doors remained locked until 3 p.m. and two to three employees stood at the door allowing only masked customers into the store.
Laferriere said during that time about 20 people approached the entrance without masks. She said one man refused to wear a mask and pushed his way through but chose to leave after staff threatened to call the police.
Power said he believed the demonstration was about not wearing masks rather than supporting local business. He said he cares about the health of employees and customers more than financial profit.
The maskless customers do not understand that Tri-State Outfitters stores have been devastated with sick and quarantined employees from COVID-19, Power said.
“Please understand that we will not put our employees and fellow customers’ health at risk — the short term profit is not worth the long term risk,” Power wrote in a Moscow Tri-State Outfitters Facebook post. “In fact, the ‘financial reality’ (referring to Wilson’s post) of us keeping our business open depends on our staff staying healthy — our employees being put needlessly at risk is actually devastating to our business.”
The Moscow Tri-State Outfitters Facebook post garnered 602 reactions and 154 comments in the four hours after it was posted. Nearly all of the comments were in support of the store.
Laferriere said the social media, phone call and in-person support from the community was amazing. She said one customer said, “Merry Christmas,” noting that the phrase can be said through a mask.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.