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INDIANAPOLIS — Downtown business owners and employees were overwhelmingly supportive of Mayor Joe Hogsett’s countywide mask mandate, effective July 9, but questioned how effective it would be if not properly enforced.

One business owner expressed concerns about issuing a government order, rather than relying on social responsibility, but declined to be interviewed on camera.

She feared speaking candidly about her views on the politically-charged debate over masks would lead to public backlash against her business, she said.

The mayor’s order calls for residents to wear face coverings in all indoor spaces that are not their homes, including offices and retail establishments, and outdoors “where social distancing is not possible.”

Children ages two and under, people running or walking outdoors, and people with medical conditions that prevent the use of masks will be exempt from the order.

Face coverings – difficult to wear while eating or drinking – will not be required while dining in public.

However, restaurant staffers said they expected people waiting for tables, service, or carryout orders to keep their noses and mouths covered.

“If this is what lets us stay open and what keeps the cases down, then this is what we need to do,” said Mark Weghorst, co-owner of seafood restaurant “Slapfish” in Noblesville.

He coordinated the opening of a second Slapfish location – on Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indianapolis.

The downtown restaurant is slated to open Monday, three days before the countywide mask requirement takes effect.

Weghorst worried the mandate could deter some people from dining at restaurants already struggling to stay afloat following pandemic-related closures but said he supported the mayor’s order regardless of its impact on his bottom line.

“I don’t know how people will react. That’s something that I think all restaurant owners are worried about. Restaurants are just going to have to get creative and figure it out,” Weghorst said.

Aaron Hunter, a retail associate at a shoe store across the street from Slapfish’s downtown location, said he anticipated “a little pushback” from customers opposed to wearing masks.

“I feel like most people are willing to do whatever to help the next person, so hopefully it’s not too bad,” he said. “If it makes people feel safe and keeps people coming back, it’s not a problem for me.”

Hunter and his colleagues began wearing masks inside the store weeks before the mayor announced his July 9 mandate.

Without a strictly enforced local mask policy, he estimated only half of their customers wore face coverings recommended by public health officials.

“You see a lot of people who wear them,” Hunter said. “And you see people come in who just don’t care at all.”

Story by Julia Deng