By Emma Castleberry
Lexi DiYeso, owner of Hazel Twenty and Maisie Twenty, started a Facebook group called Merchants of Downtown Asheville (MODA) last fall. “Being a business owner downtown comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages,” she says. “I wanted a way for us to be able to instantly get important information out to other businesses.” She had no idea how useful this group would become by spring of this year. “This group has been extremely helpful during the time of COVID-19,” she says. “With so much uncertainty around having to close, laying off staff and wondering how rents were going to be paid, being able to talk with others going through the same thing has been invaluable. It has also been helpful to see how others are approaching reopening.”
A major concern for downtown store owners has been the comfort and safety of both staff and customers during the reopening process. “As business owners, we are in charge of implementing procedures that will become the new normal to keep our staff and customers safe,” says DiYeso. Many owners realized that most people—staff and visitors alike—would feel more comfortable if masks were worn inside the businesses.
There’s no denying that face masks, while extremely effective in reducing the transmission of the virus, are a little strange to wear. In an effort to make masks “the new normal,” the MODA group hosted the #MASKAVL Photo Contest. “The campaign is to help encourage and destigmatize mask-wearing while in businesses so that we can simultaneously keep the local economy running and keep people safe,” says Jenna Yarosh Wilson, owner of Patton Avenue Pet Company. “If we want to prevent another wave of the virus and another shutdown in the future, mask-wearing and other preventative measures are crucial.”
For the contest, folks shared images of themselves wearing masks on the #MASKAVL Facebook group. Prize packages with items donated by merchants were awarded for four categories: Best Art Mask, Best Themed Photo, Most Practical Mask and Best Overall Photo. The positivity and creativity around mask-wearing are intended to make everyone feel a little safer and more joyful about our strange new day-to-day. “I will feel more comfortable in my own business and patronizing other businesses when I feel myself and others are practicing safety best practices by wearing face coverings,” says Rebecca Hecht, owner of Adorn Salon. “We have been very fortunate to have low cases of COVID-19 in our area. As we return to work and visitors return to our area, it is going to be crucial to continue the work we have done as a community to social distance to keep those numbers low so we can safely get back to enjoying everything our community has to offer.”
For more information, visit Facebook.com/groups/MaskAVL.