Business

In one Montana town, mask rules vary by the business.

In a small business district in Montana, owners are trying to navigate conflicting directives on mask-wearing to combat the spread of the coronavirus — and it’s taken them into some emotional territory.

The governor, Steve Bullock, issued a mask mandate in the summer. But the commissioners in Ravalli County, in southwestern Montana, opted not to enforce the order, citing individual rights. That decision put the business owners of Hamilton, a town of about 5,000, in the tricky position of creating their own policies — an especially difficult proposition in an area of the country that, until recently, was slow to see the spread of the virus.

Some businesses don’t require the face coverings, though others do. One owner, who runs a coffee shop, requires face coverings of employees but not customers — and some of her workers have been openly criticized while taking orders.

The businesses want safety for workers, but don’t want to alienate customers, either — especially when every one of them is needed to stay afloat. Yet despite owners’ best efforts — “We are scrupulously apolitical,” said Randy Lint, owner of Big Creek Coffee Roasters — the masks have become a political statement.

“We just try to give a good drink and kindness,” Mr. Lint said.

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