A crowd-sourced Facebook group has become the go-to source for more than 1,700 Lakelanders who want to know which local businesses still follow strict coronavirus protocols.
The group, Lakeland Business — Operation Face Mask, launched before the city of Lakeland put a mask mandate in effect for three months, and the group’s manager has been busy with updates ever since the mask requirement ended earlier this month.
The project took on extra urgency then because residents started wondering which businesses would still require masks and other precautions.
When the mandate ended, Mayor Bill Mutz said residents could check the business precautions on the Consumer Choices list assembled by the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce’s Reopen Lakeland Task Force. That list grouped roughly 50 participating businesses under three colors representing their level of coronavirus precautions.
However, the Consumer Choices information has been removed from the chamber website. Chamber officials did not respond to requests for comment, but Mutz said of the three-color Consumer Choices plan, “To reestablish them post masking enforcement capability, it seemed moot. As a result, businesses have chosen what to post on their own.” The chamber’s task force is now focusing on efforts to help local schools acquire protective gear, Mutz said.
Heather Jackson, the Realtor and social media manager who founded the Facebook group, says her goal is not to bash, but to be positive — not to call names, but to help business owners and those who need the services.
She says when she set up the page in May she had major concerns about her elderly parents’ health. Add to that — her frustration with state and local officials.
“I was frustrated and angry with the leadership,” she says. “People in town were not interested in protecting themselves or others.”
Her own approach when confronted with those who balk at continued mask wearing, she says, is a gentle chide: “It’s just a mask!”
After Tampa TV stations aired interviews with Jackson, she says 500 people asked to join the group. The online group now has 1,750 members and continues to grow.
Prospective members of Operation Face Mask are asked to fill out a request to join on Facebook. No one is automatically approved, Jackson says.
The page has three main groupings:
- A Master list that now includes 143 businesses in the Lakeland area requiring employees and customers, patients or clients to wear masks.
- In Home Vendors, including contractors, appliance and AC companies that follow safety protocols when they come to your home for service.
- Restaurants requiring masks.
Jackson has also added a separate category of “Not For Our List” restaurants where masks aren’t required.
“The ‘Not For Our List’ is just those restaurants that either don’t require their servers or patrons to wear masks, or say they’re open at 100%,” she says.
“My goal is not to punish businesses,” Jackson says. In the group, she reminds members not to include any negative comments.
Once a person is approved as a member by Jackson, they’ll see a variety of businesses from tire stores, dance or sporting shops to hair salons, chiropractors, and cafés.
As an example, a plumber was needed to fix a clogged sink. When the plumber showed up wearing a mask and wore it outside and inside, Jackson says the homeowner was incredibly impressed. Any member who has had a positive outcome with a vendor can post a brief comment.
Businesses can post their business information, Jackson says. Just send her a note.
Jackson states everyone should have a mask on [in public] and calls out governmental leadership “…that has no interest in conveying this message.”
The problem for business lies with enforcement, she says. The city of Lakeland’s mask mandate ended Oct. 5 after being in effect for just over three months. An executive order signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis banned local governments from imposing fines against individuals refusing to wear a mask.
Jackson says she understands why many are wary of reminders to adhere to safety protocols for masks and distancing. She admits to having pandemic fatigue.
“It’s not easy for anybody,” she says. “I’m just as sick of it!”
Something Jackson says she really misses is her women’s coffee group. It’s not worth it for her, though, she says, to risk exposure to the virus if her family needs her to jump in a car or plane to come help them.
A Lakeland resident for 20 years, Jackson maintains her Realtor’s license, but now works primarily from home as a social media manager for realty companies. Encouraging people to wear a mask in public is her way of helping during the pandemic she says.
Keeping her Facebook page up to date? “It’s almost a full-time job!”
The “master list” of businesses requiring masks of patrons and staff, as of Nov. 1, 2020:
ACE Hardware – Socrum Loop Rd
Advanced Eyecare Associates
AirBnB – 319 S Lake Ave
AirBnB – The Daugherty House
All About Blinds
All Creatures Animal Hospital
America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses
American Eagle Outfitters – Lakeland Square Mall
Ark Animal Hospital
Babe’s – Southgate
Bealls – all stores
Bee Good To You Massage And Bodywork
Bee Good to You at the Farmer’s Market
Benson’s Canine Cookies
Big Lots- North & South
Black & Brew – both locations
Carlton’s Music Center
Carolyn’s Beauty Shop
Center for Retina and Macular Disease
Chase Bank – 98N
Children’s Thift Store – 98N
Cisco Bella – Plantation Square
Cleveland Heights Animal Hospital
Companion Care Veterinarian – 98
Crowder Bros. – Southgate
David’s World Cycle
Day Dreams Spa – Lakeside Village
Degeorge Framing – Edgewood
Dollar Tree – North
DR Horton – Lakes at Laurel Highlands
Dr Bob Irelan – Vet Services
Dr. Plunkett – DDS
Dr. Sligh/Spine Center
Dr. Suihung Fan DDS
Dunkin Donuts – 540A
End Zone – North
Eye Specialists of Midflorida
Fabric Warehouse – N FL Ave
Firestone – S FL Ave
Friendly Nails – Oak St.
Gamestop – North
Grace Owen Hair – My Salon Suites
Great Clips – Harden
Hand & Stone Massage
Hidden Gem Consignment – North Lakeland
Hole in 1 Donuts
Jane Phend AP – Energetic Health Clinic
JcPenney Salon – Lakeland Square Mall
JessicaSnipes does Nails
John K9 Training/Kennels – Edgewood
KFC – Lakeland Square Mall – take out only
Kirkland’s Barber Shop – Lake Miriam
La Imperial Bakery
Lakeland Glass & Mirror
Lakeland Ice Arena
Lakeland Medical Massage
Lenscrafters – 98N
Liberty Health Sciences
Liquid Hair Studio
Lovely Paws Grooming
Lotus Hair Design
Lucky Puppy Nail Specialists on Edgewood
Mission Health Massage & Chiropractic
My Eye Doctor – north and south
My Pets Animal Hospital
New Moon Sushi
Noire Spa & Nails
Noire The Nail Bar
One Hour Heating & Cooling
Optical Outlets – north and south
Palace Pizza – downtown
Palace Restaurant – North
Panda Express – North
Pearle Vision – Lakeside
Perfect Nails – Alamo Plaza
Pet Supermarket – S. FL
Play It Again Sports
Publix – all stores
Pura Vie Holistic
Red Lobster – Winter Haven
Red Robin – Championsgate
Regal Nails – 98N
Richard Fox Plumbing
Sam’s – all stores
Save A Lot
Skin and Tonic Beauty Bar
Smart Title of Lakeland and Winter Haven
Spice Thai & Sushi
Spirit Halloween – Big Lots Plaza
Starbucks – all locations
Studio 323 – downtown Lakeland
Style Me Studio – Combee
Subs N Such – Dixieland
Subway – Christina
Subway – Edgewood/S FL Ave
Suncoast Credit Unions – all locations
Tangled Tails Pet Spa
Target – South and North
Tire Kingdom – 98N
Tires Plus – North and South
TJ Tubs Laundry
Tracie Carley – Mary Kay Consultant
Training with Candy Hart
USA Bearings and Belts
Verizon – S FL Ave
Waffle House – S. FL Ave
Walgreens – all locations
Watson Clinic – all locations
Women’s Imaging Center
Yates & Hagan
YMCA – all locations
LkldNow Editor Barry Friedman contributed to this report.