J.J. McAlester's not waiting for city-wide mask mandate

Courtesy photoBrenda Baxter and Twilia Gray, owners and managers of J.J. McAlester Antiques in McAlester's Old Town, hold a sign stating the store's new policy requiring all customers as well as store workers to wear face masks in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

They're not waiting for the city of McAlester's mandate requiring face masks to be worn in all public places to go into effect on Aug. 23.

J.J. McAlester's Antiques now has a policy in place requiring those who shop in the store, as well as employees, to wear a face mask or other protective facial covering in their bid to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Although several national retail chain stores in the city have a similar requirement, J.J. McAlester's is one of the first independently-owned store in McAlester to mandate the wearing of protective face masks by both employees and customers.

Brenda Baxter and her mother, Twilia Gray, who are owner-managers of the store, think they've acted in the best interests of everyone.

"We have a lot of out-of-state people who come through," Baxter said.

She said things have been going well since J.J. McAlester Antiques reopened following the statewide shutdown earlier this year of what was deemed nonessential businesses.

"We had great sales in June after we reopened," said Baxter. "We paid our sales taxes and felt like we were good contributors to the community."

Baxter said she would like to see things continue that way, which is why she and her mother jointly decided to put the mask-wearing requirement in place far ahead of the Aug. 23 date mandated by the city.

They posted a sign on the front door of the shop that reads: "Masks are required" followed by "(We don't want to close our store)."

"We enjoy our work and we enjoy seeing the people from everywhere," Baxter said. "We're not an essential service. This is the only way we can do what we do."

Customers have been understanding, said Gray. Most were wearing masks anyway, without the requirement in place.

"We've only had two come in the store without masks." Gray said. "They had left them in the car and went back and got them."

"It's not only to protect us. It's also to protect our customers," she said of the store's mask mandate.

Baxter said she has masks available to provide to customers who do not have one of their own. So far, there has been no need to do so.

"Everyone's already had one," Baxter said. "I will provide one if they don't have one."

Baxter takes the threat of COVID-19 seriously.

"I know two people personally who have COVID-19 right now," said Baxter, who supports the mask-wearing mandate passed by the city council.

"The city is doing what it can," she said.

What does Baxter think about the city council's split vote last Tuesday night to allocate $30,000 to be used as matching funds to help McAlester businesses purchase protective face masks to provide to their customers?

"I'm very self-sufficient, but I do understand the need of small businesses that need their help," Baxter said. "Overhead is very big."

Baxter and Gray are supportive of the city that shares their antique shop's name.

"We are for McAlester and we want the very best for our city," said Gray. "We think with us taking precautions, it will be better for everybody."

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcaleternews.com.

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