Alvin's is a gas station, convenience store, and tanning salon in tiny Manchester, Kentucky (Pop. 1,255) that also has its own buffet-style hot bar featuring an ever-changing daily menu of [sic- throughout] samon patties, spiral-cut hame, and sour krout. Until this week, the majority of people who had heard of Alvin's probably either lived somewhere in Clay County, had been incarcerated in Manchester's own federal prison, or some combination of the two.
That changed a few days ago when the Alvin's owners taped a handwritten sign to its front door, warning customers that despite government orders and the recommendations of health experts, they could not wear a face mask when stopping in to get a plate of hot hame.
"NO Face Masks allowed in store. Lower your mask or go somewhere else," it read. "Stop listening to [Kentucky Governor Andy] Beshear, he's a dumbass."
A picture of the sign was shared on Facebook, and immediately went viral in a variety of online circles, likely including both those who think face masks are essential to protect each other from a potentially deadly respiratory virus and those that think they represent government oppression. The comments ranged from "[the owners] are point blank, childish" to "GOOD THING YOU WEREN'T AROUND DURING THE HITLER REIGN, YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN THE ONE TURNING PEOPLE IN."
Regardless, the bright pink sign got the attention of the Cumberland Valley District Health Department, which told WYMT that it had "reached out" to the gas station owners and that it planned to send an inspector to the combination gas station-tanning-salon-samon-purveyor. Part of the Health Department's concern is that last week, Governor Beshear directed all state residents to wear a mask or "any face covering" when they're around others in public or visiting or working at any open business.
Although Beshear's announcement specified that businesses or supermarkets could deny entry to anyone who wasn't wearing a mask, it didn't say anything about the opposite situation. By Tuesday, Alvin's had reportedly removed the sign, and it made an attempt to both backtrack and be Tough Freedom Lovin' Americans. "First of all, we would never deny any customer access inside our store, that is wearing a mask or not wearing a mask," it wrote on Facebook.
"We are not telling you to not wear a mask, what we are saying is, it's your choice to wear one or not, not our government's choice for us. While some got the meaning behind it, a lot did not. We didn't mean to offend anyone, but we will not apologize for our beliefs in our freedom to make our own decisions, that our government wants to make for us."
In an interview with Newsweek, Alvin's owner Chris Stavely re-emphasized that anyone who was upset about the sign just didn't understand it. "The sign was meant to grab a person's attention so that they could come in and say, 'You can't tell me what to do.' That was our point," he said. "We can't tell you what to do and neither can the government. They need to stand up for what they believe in." (He also said that it was "fake news" that he'd been contacted by the Health Department.)
In a way, Alvin's seems to be doubling down on both the 'prevention' and the 'freedom' arguments. On the one hand, the store doesn't require masks, apparently not even for whoever handles the hot bar chicken legs, and it said that it would be reopening its tanning beds "with or without consent." (But in the same paragraph in which Alvin's insisted that it "wasn't asking for permission," it also said that the store would "follow all CDC guidelines.")
To make matters even more confusing, the store is currently selling 'Trump 2020' face masks for $5 a pop, it has $10.99 bottles of hand sanitizer, and it has taped social distancing markers to its floor.
Last week, an employee at a BP gas station in Peoria Heights, Illinois was fired after taping an extremely similar sign to the store's front door. "NO Face Masks allowed in store. Lower your mask or go somewhere else," it said. "Stop listening to [Illinois Governor J.B.] Pritzker, he's a dumbass."
The unidentified woman said that she put the signs up so she could see customers' faces, determine whether she was inadvertently selling booze or smokes to an underage customer, and to protect herself and her coworkers from being robbed. "It’s only a respectful thing to identify yourself,” she told WMBD.
If Alvin's is going to preach individual freedom and standing up for what you believe in, it might be best not to copy ideas straight from the internet.