Overland Park businesses weigh in on Kansas’ mask requirement — or possibly opting out

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — The governor of Kansas is mandating masks starting Friday, but Johnson County can opt out under Kansas law.

Commissioners could make that decision at an emergency meeting Thursday morning. They plan to talk about mandating masks in public. 

“They just want certainty,” said Tracey Osborne Oltjen, Overland Park Chamber of Commerce president & CEO.

Osborne Oltjen sent a survey to the chamber’s members to see how businesses in the county’s largest city feel about requiring customers to wear masks. 

She said this survey has received intense response with more than 670 replies to sift through.  

“What we’re really hearing most of all is, ‘Please don’t shut us down.’ Most businesses told us in the beginning, in mid-March told us, ‘We can do it once. We can’t do it again,'” Osborne Oltjen said. “So if wearing masks is what it’s going to take in order to keep people safe, to bring the number down and to keep my business open, then I’ll wear a mask.”

She said 70% of the chamber’s members already require employees to wear masks, but the governor’s new mandate would make customers cover up, too, or they won’t be allowed inside. 

“The difficulty is where we have to be the ones that are doing the enforcing, and it’s going to cause and has caused some difficult conversations. We’re turning people away,” said Todd Johns, owner of Plowboys BBQ in Overland Park. “We’re not here to enforce mask wearing. We’re here to serve great BBQ to the public.”

As a small business owner, Johns said they don’t want to be the middle-man creating animosity with customers.

“If wearing masks is what we need to do, we’ll do that. But don’t put me in between my customers and mask-wearing,” Johns said. 

At Barkley’s Kitchen and Bar, assistant general manager Kevin Collins said, currently, the majority of guests who come in don’t wear masks. 

“We invite them in. We want them taken care of. You don’t like telling guests, ‘no’ and that’s something that we’ve had to look at all angles,” Collins said.

He said it’s a tight spot because they want to keep the guests happy, but also safe. 

All the comments from Overland Park businesses gathered through the survey will be given to the Johnson County Commissioners on Thursday. 

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