Island ‘Super Market’ allegedly skirts face mask mandate

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People approach Publix Super Market, 3900 E. Bay Drive, Holmes Beach, where enforcement of the city face mask mandate has come into question. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
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Publix Super Market, 3900 E. Bay Drive, Holmes Beach, has signage posted in the store indicating masks are required but, store management apparently has recieved instructions to the contrary from its corporate office.

Holmes Beach’s Publix may not be doing its part to uphold the city face mask mandate.

According to two Publix Super Market employees who requested anonymity out of fear of retribution from their employer, corporate policy prohibits staff from removing or reporting individuals who refuse to wear face masks.

“We can’t kick anyone out,” one employee said. “We can offer a mask, but that’s it.”

The other employee said workers were told not to report people who refuse to wear masks unless they cause a disturbance for other shoppers.

The Islander publisher, Bonner Joy, pointed out two unmasked shoppers at the Beachway Publix, 7310 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

“The manager had just provided a mask to another customer when we spoke and I was told the policy is to advise customers of the rules and offer a mask, but no enforcement of the county mask mandate would be carried out at the store — according to corporate directions,” Joy said. “I found it ironic for a clerk at the entrance to clean carts while people pass through the doors into the store with no mask, putting everyone in the store at risk of possible exposure to COVID-19.”

“I wrote to customer service the same day but, as of Sept. 11, I have no reply,” Joy continued. “I won’t be going back to Publix.”

To slow the spread of the coronavirus, the county and Holmes Beach mandates require people wear masks within businesses — with few exceptions — and places the onus on the businesses.

Establishments that fail to enforce the mandate in Holmes Beach can receive a verbal warning for a first offense, a $250 fine for a second offense and $500 fines for any subsequent offenses.

To date, the city has not issued any businesses citations for offenses or collected any fines.

Publix media relations contact Maria Brous did not confirm nor deny the allegations about corporate directives in a Sept. 8 email to The Islander.

“If a customer does not have a mask with them, we will gladly offer them one to wear while shopping in our stores,” Brous wrote. “Our management teams are handling situations as they arise, so I cannot give you a more in-depth perspective.”

“We recognize that there will be exceptions to our mask policy due to age and medical restrictions, and we will handle these on a case-by-case basis,” Brous added in a Sept. 11 email.

Brous did not respond to The Islander’s question asking if an individual not exempt from the mandate but refusing to wear a mask would be removed from a store or reported to local authorities.

Holmes Beach manager Chris Smith declined to comment Sept. 11.

Also, Smith and Brous both denied permission to The Islander to take photographs on Publix property.

“Unfortunately, since the start of the pandemic, to be fair and consistent with all our media partners, we have not allowed videography/photography in our stores,” Brous wrote.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said the HBPD wouldn’t act on the allegations until it received a complaint from an individual about mask enforcement.

“If Publix has their own rules that violate the city’s rules, we would handle that on a case-by-case basis should we find that’s the truth,” Tokajer said. “But that’s not something we’d go and discuss with Publix unless this is a problem brought to our attention.”

“My officers can’t be at every business at once,” the chief said. “There are a lot of things going on in the city that require police attention.”

He suggested the police department has had a good relationship with the store’s management team, which he said may handle things differently from the corporate directive.

“We’ve never had a problem that we have discussed with our Publix local management team that they have not addressed immediately,” Tokajer said. “Their corporate rules and local rules are between Publix and the local management team.”

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