• At least 20 major retailers have announced plans to require masks in their stores. 
  • Foot Locker and Winn-Dixie have said they won’t enforce mask requirements, however, citing concerns for their employees.
  • The CEO of Foot Locker told the Financial Times that he is “not willing to put [his employees] at risk” of having to enforce a mask policy.
  • A spokesperson for Winn-Dixie’s parent company, Southeaster Grocers, told USA Today that the company wants to avoid “undue friction” between customers and employees.
  • After the publication of this story, Southeastern Grocers said it would change its policies to require customers to wear masks starting July 27.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Some retailers are refusing to require masks in stores, amid a rash of disturbing incidents involving people who oppose wearing face coverings. 

The CEO of Foot Locker told the Financial Times that he is “not willing to put [his employees] at risk” of having to enforce a mask policy and cited accounts of anti-mask shoppers confronting employees at other retailers.

Foot Locker posts signs at its entrances advising customers to wear masks, but “for the safety of our associates, our Stripers’ will not enforce or deny entrance to customers who choose not to wear one,” Dick Johnson, the Foot Locker CEO, later said in an email to Footwear News. Foot Locker did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. 

The grocery chain Winn-Dixie has also said it will not enforce a mandatory mask policy. 

A spokesperson for Winn-Dixie’s parent company, Southeastern Grocers, told USA Today that it won’t require masks to avoid “undue friction” between customers and employees.

“We strongly encourage state officials to lead the way in regulating these type of safety mandates,” Joe Caldwell, the Southeastern Grocers spokesperson, said in a statement to USA Today. Foot Locker did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. 

Following the publication of this story, Southeastern Grocers said it would change its policy and require customers to wear masks starting July 27.

“Coverage from your publication and others has created driven meaningful dialogue around this issue,” Caldwell, the company’s spokesperson, said. “Because we’re always listening to feedback from our customers and communities, we’ve evolved our position and hope to more clearly emphasize what’s always been most important to our company: the safety of our customers, associates and communities.”

In recent weeks, a number of retailers including Walmart, Target, Macy’s and Gap have announced plans to start requiring masks in all stores.

Surveys indicate broad public support for face-mask requirements in stores. In a recent Harris Poll survey, 76% of respondents said businesses should create and enforce mask requirements.

But some customers have lashed out at workers in protest of mask mandates. In recent weeks, widely shared videos have shown shoppers shouting at employees and destroying store displays in defiance of face-mask rules, as Business Insider’s Kate Taylor reported.

In some cases, these displays of opposition have turned violent. A 19-year-old McDonald’s employee told Business Insider that a customer assaulted her in June after she asked him to wear a mask.

Here’s the full statement from Southeastern Grocers on its new mask policy: 

At Southeastern Grocers, we put people at the center of each and every decision we make for our stores. Our decisions have always been shaped by listening to our people and our communities.

As we have navigated through the complexities and challenges of the pandemic, we have progressively shaped our operations and are continuing to update our policies to best protect all those who depend upon us. This unprecedented period requires a willingness to be adaptable and flexible to ever-changing circumstances, and we will continue to adjust as needed over time.

The majority of our stores are under either a local or state government mandate, and given the continued rise of positive COVID cases in our communities across the Southeast, beginning Monday, July 27, we will be requiring masks to be worn by customers to help reduce the spread of the disease. Our communities count on us, and we are counting on our customers to show kindness as we go through these challenging times together.

We believe that the enforcement should be placed upon our state and federally elected officials, and we will continue to work with our peers in the retail industry to advocate for this sensible mandate to be passed into law to remove the burden from employers and their heroic frontline associates.

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