A pair of models posed in the window of True, a women’s boutique in the trendy River North Art District of Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, modeling fall looks.
One was wearing a textured sweater and a wide-brimmed hat. The other was dressed in a black puffy coat over a pink shirt tucked into jeans. The second model had something hanging in her ear that a year ago may have cornered passers-by as weird. Seven months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, a patterned fabric mask looks natural.
“They are really seen as the new accessory,” said Monique Plante, a true sales associate. “They are definitely popular. I bring people in to ask for masks. “
Joe’s Liquors, also located in the 2600 block of Larimer Street, also sells masks. They are on the counter next to the tobacco products and the alcohol shooters. They’re cheaper than True’s masks, $ 5.99 versus $ 12 or $ 14 each. Unlike the floral designs 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 wearing masks. “People asked.”
The fact that the two neighboring businesses – although very different – sell masks is a sign of the times. It’s also a testament to how many people in Denver and across the country have adapted to the recommendations of public health experts and embraced masks as a means of self-expression.
“He quickly went from being merchandise to being something differentiator,” said Melissa Akaka, associate professor of marketing at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. “It’s stamped on our body. It covers our face. Masks are definitely closely related to how we interact with others and how we express ourselves. “
Government intervention has played a role in shifting masks from something primarily associated with medical workers to be accepted and expected in contexts ranging from the workplace to Colorado mountain trails, said Akaka, co-director DU Consumer Information and Business Innovation Center. Governor Jared Polis issued a statewide mask warrant in July that applies to anyone over the age of 11 and covers all indoor public spaces, including shops. Polis extended the tenure for an additional 30 days on Monday in the face of an increase in coronavirus hospitalizations in the state.
This intervention is accompanied by repression. Demonstrations were held in Colorado to protest the mask order and other government restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. An outfit at Bandimere Speedway in Jefferson County last month drew more than 1,000 unmasked people.
As Choi saw with the Denver Central Market food hall across from his store, many businesses have imposed their own mandatory mask rules before the governor or city officials act. And a lot of people will buy a mask on the fly so they can shop where they want to go.
“The mandate to wear them in particular areas means we have to have enough of this product to go through our daily lives and once you have to wear them you might as well make them into something you want to wear,” Akaka said. .
Akaka noticed that stylization quickly became a big part of mask wearing, perhaps because many masks during the early days of the pandemic were handcrafted by anyone who owned a sewing machine. Her 11-year-old daughter personalized a solid-color mask for herself after not being able to find one she liked online.
COVID Essentials Store in the Park Meadows shopping center in Lone Tree opened on Labor Day weekend to offer dozens of varieties of masks and face shields, which line the walls much like showrooms. The masks cost between $ 14.99 and $ 129.99 for a “portable air purifier” with a built-in fan, according to co-owner Nathan Chen.
“Denver loves blingues,” Chen said Tuesday, gesturing to a row of masks decorated with Swarovski crystals.
COVID Essentials offers accessories including additional lanyards and straps that allow masks to be connected behind the neck rather than passing over the ears. It also offers a wide selection of iron-on patches ranging from numbers and letters to emojis and pop culture characters. Salesman Chris Guzman wore a mask with patches of the Pokmon Charizard and the Batman logo.
“Most of the time, I’m in the custom corner pressing the masks,” Chen said of the popularity of the patches. “We used to do this with our jeans and our jackets when we were kids.”
Of course, there are a lot of masks with logos and designs already on them in the store. Masks bearing President Donald Trump’s name are popular, Chen said. He also wears Joe Biden masks.
Denver resident Tina DeVita bought a polyester mask with a Broncos logo on Tuesday from COVID Essentials. It was a bit pricey for her at $ 24.99 before tax, but she was looking for a Broncos mask and had gotten a $ 5 coupon on her next mask at the store.
Like many people who are currently working in the hospitality industry, DaVita is struggling. She was fired from her job in a hotel gift shop. She wore daily masks at work and had 12 masks before she bought her Broncos print on Tuesday.
“Now I feel like I need something that I can coordinate with my clothes, whether it’s for business or for play,” DeVita said. “It’s the new normal, so you might as well have fun.”
The Lone Tree store is one of eight COVID Essentials stores across the country. Chen’s partner Nadav Benimetzky launched the first in Florida. The channel and its Park Meadows location were featured in an article by a Kaiser Health News reporter who was published on the New York Times website. In that story, Bienmetzky said, “I can’t wait to end up going bankrupt,” looking forward to when the coronavirus is contained and masks and other COVID-related supplies are no longer essential.
Chen expects demand to take some time to subside. He frequently hears from customers who are concerned that a future vaccine will not be effective or that some people will choose not to be vaccinated, he said. These people expect to rely on masks as a line of defense, even after a vaccine is deployed. In the short term, people are buying masks that they plan to wear on New Year’s Eve or as a gift for the holidays, Chen said.
COVID Essentials has a lot of competitors trying to meet this demand, even in its own mall. Park Meadows general manager Pamela Schenck Kelly estimates that about half of the more than 180 retailers open in the mall now sell masks.
“Unintended Consequences: Masks are now part of the look,” Kelly said. “Many masks are an expression of a person’s opinions, an expression of their style. It’s almost like the T-shirt was in the 70s.
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