EASTON — Two stands at the Amish Country Farmers Market in Easton have been shut down by the Talbot County Health Department.
The temporary closures come during the very busy weekend before Thanksgiving.
Operators of the Country Cheese and Salads and Ruthie’s Soft Pretzels stands at the popular market indicated they were ordered to close on Thursday, Nov. 19., for allegedly violating COVID-19 mask orders.
Eli Stoltzfus, who operates the cheese, desserts and deli stand, is frustrated with the closure saying the county health department inspector cited the business because two young employees were in the back and were not wearing masks. Stoltzfus said they were taking a food break.
He hopes to reopen on Tuesday, Nov. 24, but said the closure is hurtful to the business because it comes right before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I begged them. I begged them,” said Stoltzfus who operates the business with his wife Rachel and their daughters. “It’s the busiest week of the year,” he said.
State and county orders mandate masks because of the coronavirus.
Stoltzfus said this is the second time his business has been shuttered by the county over the mask mandate. He said the first time was because masks were not being worn properly.
He was also critical of the health department for the Thursday action. “They came in disguise,” he contended.
Stoltzfus also said no warning was given in relation to the alleged violation.
Other shops and stands at the popular Amish market on Marlboro Avenue in Easton remained open during the busy pre-Thanksgiving weekend.
Talbot County Health Officer Dr. Fredia Wadley did not respond to requests for comment on the mask violations and closure orders.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has been pressing for more local enforcement of state mask mandates, socially distancing and other orders amid the rise in reported positive COVID tests results statewide and nationally.
“I want to remind Marylanders that our statewide mask mandate carries the full force of law,” Hogan said in a social media statement on Nov. 14. “Businesses that fail to comply with emergency orders run the risk of jail time, fines, actions taken regarding their business licenses, or closure.”
Both Hogan and Wadley — along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and projected President-elect Joe Biden — are discouraging large Thanksgiving get-together over fears of the virus. The CDC has also warned against Thanksgiving travel because of COVID-19.
Stoltzfus said an inspection for his business is slated for Monday with hopes of opening Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
He also had a petition at his stand for those concerned about the closure.
When asked if he feels picked on by the county over the COVID mask orders, Stoltzfus said, “We do.”
Operators at the Ruthie’s Soft Pretzels shop at the Easton Amish market could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
There were multiple signs at the stand indicating the business was temporarily closed for violating the coronavirus mask mandate.
“Reason for closing: Not wearing proper face covering,” one sign read at the pretzel and ice cream shop.
“We will reopen Tuesday, Nov. 24,” another sign said.
Both businesses inside the market also had notices of their closure posted by the Talbot County Health Department.
There are 61 active COVID-19 cases in Talbot County after nine new cases were reported by the local health department on Saturday, Nov. 21.
One customer who walked up to the pretzel shop on Saturday voiced frustration with the temporary closure sign. “That sucks,” she said.