‘Not going to have 2020 happen again’: DC businesses ready for start of new indoor mask mandate

The line to enter Pitchers in D.C. on Friday night might be longer than usual, owner Dave Perruzza said, and the music will be a little bit lower.

The popular Adams Morgan bar is now requiring customers to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination, and the music will be toned down to allow guests to hear each other through masks.

The goal, Perruzza said, is to ensure everyone’s safety, as restaurants and bars continue to adapt to the evolving circumstances surrounding the pandemic. In the latest change, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said masks are required indoors beginning Saturday morning.

But for Perruzza, the requirement is also about making sure Pitchers could retain its staff. At the start of the pandemic, he watched as employees had to live with their parents. He went from having 47 workers to 12.

Now, his staff is back to 46 people, and even as the delta variant spreads across the country, he wants to ensure it stays that way.

“I’m not going to have 2020 happen again because some people don’t want to get vaccinated,” Perruzza said. “I don’t think it’s fair to everybody else that did the work and doesn’t want a repeat of 2020 to have to deal with these people either.”

The mask mandate that goes into effect Saturday at 5 a.m. will require everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks indoors. The only exception, Bowser said Thursday, is for people eating and drinking.

The move comes as DC Health officials said the city saw COVID-19 cases go up fivefold in July. The announcement follows new CDC guidance recommending the same as concern grows nationwide about community transmission.

But some D.C. bars and restaurants are going a step further, requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of admission.

Perruzza, for one, said he will enforce the mask mandate and that signs that inform customers of the new rule will be posted. Pitchers will also continue to ask that customers provide ID and their vaccination card, a decision Perruzza made Thursday after discussing it with his management team.

He said so far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I do think we have a great group of community,” Perruzza said. “And I think people will carry their cards with them.”

Three Littles
Owner of Three Little’s children’s boutique in D.C.’s Union Market neighborhood said her store received backlash online over an announcement of D.C.’s new mask mandate. (Mike Murillo/WTOP)

Elsewhere, at Three Littles, a children’s boutique in Union Market, the mask requirement has remained even after the city lifted its mandate earlier this year. Owner Elizabeth Mahon said the shop requires masks because many of the children who enter the store are not eligible for a vaccine.

Mahon said reaction to the rule has been positive until recently, when she shared news of the city’s mandate on Instagram.

“At that point, I got a slew of nasty messages and emails,” Mahon said.

Scrolling through her phone, Mahon read some of the responses she received to her post.

“I can’t believe you’re buying into this mask BS, masks are stealing our child’s childhood, you’re nothing more than a liberal sheep, no one this dumb deserves to be a business owner,” Mahon read.

Mahon said many of the commenters do not live in the D.C. region or follow the store, but she was shocked to receive so many negative responses.

As for her mask-wearing rule, she said it has only stopped a few potential customers from coming in. She said for her, keeping the rule around was important to make sure she and her staff, which she said are all vaccinated, do not contract the illness, which would force the store to close while everyone recovers.

“If wearing masks for myself, and mandating masks in the shop, is going to keep myself and my staff members safe, that feels worth it too,” Mahon said.

At Floriana near Dupont Circle, owner Jamie Branda doesn’t believe the new order will have a big impact on the restaurant’s operations, and he doesn’t foresee issues enforcing the rules. He also anticipates many people will continue to dine outdoors.

“What we’re experiencing in D.C. is that people largely have been requesting outdoors anyway,” Branda said. “I think the biggest thing that this will affect … is large groups that want to have a private event indoors.”

Back at Pitchers, Perruzza said the bar has high ceilings, open windows and a separate ventilation system for every room. But still, he’ll take pride in the fact that customers will know they’re around other vaccinated people.

“We just want to create a safe, great space for our community, and to do that, everyone’s got to make some sacrifices,” Perruzza said.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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