Coronavirus: Bookshop owner defends facemask policy amid online backlash

Joan Lucey says she is following health advice in order to protect her staff, customers

A Cork bookshop owner has defended her decision to ask customers to wear masks coming into her shop to protect against Covid-19 following backlash on social media.

Joan Lucey, who owns Vibes and Scribes on Lavitt's Quay in Cork city centre, re-opened her shop on Tuesday and asked customers to wear a mask and, if they didn't have one with them, the shop was happy to provide one.

"We asked people to wear masks for the safety of our staff and our customers and if they didn't have one, we were happy to provide them with one and they could make a donation to the Cork Sexual Violence Centre, " said Ms Lucey.

"But we were very surprised when we discovered this really bad reaction on line with some people going on to our Facebook page, accusing us of trying to humiliate them and others saying that they were going to blacklist us."


Among the comments posted on the Vibes and Scribes Facebook page was one stating “Compulsory masks and sanitizers [sic] are my reasons for blacklisting the shops. It’s not Covid that kills small business, it’s those shops’ own policies.”

Another person expressed delight that Vibes and Scribes was after re-opening but said they would “not step a foot inside unless you remove the absurd requirement for people to wear masks”.

“Happy to see you have been ‘allowed’ to reopen but very disappointed to see your mask policy! Big NO to masks!! Not necessary, not mandatory! Won’t be visiting your store or any store that has a mask policy,” said another.

Another posted a message stating, “Great way to stop customers coming to your shop – nobody should be made to wear face masks, we all have free choice “ while another vowed not to visit “under these humiliating conditions.”


It appears some of those expressing strong opposition to Vibes and Scribes policy have links to the anti-vaccinations but Ms Lucey said she was simply following HSE advice on masks out of concern for her staff and customers.

“We’re asking people to wear masks simply to protect our staff and customers and if for whatever reason, people refuse to wear a mask, we ask them to limit their visit to 10 minutes - again out of concern for our staff and customers.”

Ms Lucey, who won Cork Retailer of the Year in 2015, said she was gratified by the many messages of support they had received online from people saying they will come into her shop as Covid 19 has had a devastating impact on retail.

“Retail is on its knees. We’ve re-opened our bookshop and no matter what happens when we open up our craft supplies shop on Bridge Street, no matter how the customers feel towards us, it’s going to be very difficult.

She said that she had moved all her staff to working on her online craft supplies business and nobody was left go from the Vibes and Scribes team during the pandemic but re-opening her shops presented new challenges.

“Funnily enough, in our online shop we’ve been selling huge amounts of products for mask making because we sell a lot of elastics and fabrics, so I was aware that people are making masks and people were pro-masks.”

“I admit we didn’t consult with anybody but to be honest I didn’t feel that it was terribly relevant, I thought I was doing the right thing for my staff and my customers and to be fair, most our customers have been supportive.”

Official advice

The latest official advice from the HSE, updated on June 15th, states that face coverings should be worn in situations where it is difficult to practice social distancing, such as in shops and on public transport.

“Face coverings help to prevent people who do not know they have the virus from spreading it to others .... it may help to reduce the spread of respiratory droplets from people infected with coronavirus,” said the HSE.

Just two days ago, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar launched a government campaign to urge people to wear face masks in public places and he did not rule out the possibility that the government might make the wearing of masks mandatory.

“It’s seen as an additional hygiene measure that can help reduce the spread of the infection .... I do see people using them more and more so I think the message is getting across,” he said.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times