A pair of mannequins posed in the window of True,a women’s boutique in the trendy River North Art District portion of Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, modeling fall looks.
One sported a marigold, textured sweater and wide-brimmed hat. The other was dressed in a black puffy coat over a pink shirt tucked into jeans. The second mannequin had something dangling from its ear that a year ago may have stuck passersby as odd. Seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, however, a patterned cloth mask seems natural.
“They are really seen as the new accessory,” Monique Plante, a True sales associate, said. “They’re definitely popular. I do get people coming in and asking for masks.”
Joe’s Liquors, also located in the 2600 block of Larimer Street, sells masks, too. They’re on the counter next to the tobacco products and the liquor shooters. They’re cheaper than the masks at True, $5.99 compared to $12 or $14 each. Unlike the floral patterns among True’s offerings, Joe’s Liquors sells masks bearing the Colorado flag or a Denver Broncos logo.
“No choice,” Joe’s owner Ung Choi said when asked why he started carrying masks. “People have been asking.”
That the two neighboring — albeit very different businesses — are selling face coverings is a sign of the times. It’s also a testament to how many people in Denver and across the nation have adapted to public health experts’ recommendations and have embraced masks as an avenue for self-expression.
“It’s quickly moved from commodity to something that is a differentiator,” said Melissa Akaka, an associate professor of marketing with the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. “It’s affixed onto our body. It covers our face. Masks are definitely closely tied to how we engage with others and how we express ourselves.”
Government intervention has played a role in masks moving from something mostly associated with medical workers to being accepted and expected in contexts ranging from the workplace to Colorado’s mountain trails, said Akaka, co-director of DU’s Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center. Gov. Jared Polis issued a statewide mask mandate in July that applies to everyone over the age of 11 and covering all indoor public spaces including stores. Polis on Monday extended the mandate for another 30 days amid a rise in coronavirus hospitalization in the state.
That intervention come with pushback. Demostrations have been held in Colorado protesting the mask order and other government restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. One held at Bandimere Speedway in Jefferson County last month drew more than 1,000 unmasked people.
As Choi has seen with the Denver Central Market food hall across the street from his store, many businesses enforced their own mandatory mask rules before the governor or city officials took action. And many people will buy a mask