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Businesses figuring out how to make customers comfortable as vaccinated no longer need masks

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JANESVILLE (WKOW) -- A day after the CDC announced fully-vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks, Rock County lifted its mask mandate -- though businesses can still require masks if they want to.

Businesses 27 News spoke to in Janesville weren't sure yet what to do.

Friday was a bit of a strange day at Lark Market.

"People were kind of coming in and sheepishly going, 'I'm vaccinated. Is it okay?'" said co-owner Joan Neeno.

She and husband Richard Neeno just took down their "Masks Required" sign Friday.

"We did," Joan said. "And that wasn't an easy decision to be honest with you."

She says they've required masks the whole pandemic, both at the market and at the nearby Lark restaurant.

Now, it's a big change.

"I guess I don't know if there's an easy way to flip the switch on it," Joan said. "We were very surprised."

608 Vintage kept its "Masks Required" signs up -- at least for now.

"We figure we'll do it for a while, and see how it goes," said owner Jeff Gustin. "See how people start to react to it."

In the heart of downtown, several storefronts had mask signs in the windows, and several didn't. Business owners said it's hard to know exactly what to do right now. They just want to make customers feel comfortable.

"It's up to the individual person if they want to wear it or not," Gustin said.

Despite his sign still requiring masks, Gustin says he's still trying to figure out what's best.

"More than likely, us behind the counter here will continue to wear them for a while and see how everything plays out," he said.

That's the same plan for the folks at Lark Market.

"If people walk in with a mask, we will wear a mask," Joan Neeno said. "We just want our customers to be comfortable."

Christine Rebout with the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau says it's okay that businesses aren't sure yet what exactly to do.

"Lifting the mandate just gives us flexibility in how individual businesses can handle things," she said. "Every business is different. If you have a small store that's very crowded, you may want to keep masks for a little while. If you're someone with health risks, that may be what's comfortable for you."

Rebout says this is all a sign that things are returning to normal. The farmers' market has returned, this weekend there's a car show and there are even more events added to the schedule each day this summer.

"I think this would be a really important summer for those businesses that really tried to just hang on and, and do the best they could to get through the past year," Rebout said.

Joan Neeno said business was down 40 percent in 2020 compared to 2019 -- but she's hopeful to bounce back.

"I think we expect to have a really good summer and fall," she said.

608 Vintage just moved to Janesville from Milton in November, and Gustin says he's already seeing business increase with warmer weather.

"People, they want to get out, you know?" he said. "So hopefully that'll translate into more business."

Dane County still has an indoor mask order. Public Health Madison Dane County says it'll be releasing updated guidance on Tuesday.

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

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