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Bigfork business responds to state health department COVID-19 complaints

Posted at 4:57 PM, Oct 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-28 13:28:25-04

BIGFORK — Five businesses in Flathead County were recently served temporary restraining orders from state health officials for operating in violation of the state's mask directive. MTN News spoke with the owner of one of the businesses who says the mask mandate is causing an unsafe work environment for his employees.

“I had one of my employees tell a fellow that came in ‘sir do you mind putting on a mask?’ And he put his hand on his gun and said make me, now this lad has called me and said he wants to quit,” said Your Turn Mercantile and Last Turn Casino owner Douglas White.

He owns one of the five businesses in Flathead County recently served complaints and temporary restraining orders from state health officials for not following Gov. Steve Bullock’s mask mandate.

Your Turn Mercantile in Bigfork, Sykes Dinner and Scotty’s Bars in Kalispell, Remington Bar and Casino in Whitefish, and Ferndale Market were all served lawsuits while the restraining orders were not acted upon allowing the businesses to stay open.

Health Inspector complaints at the businesses ranged from employees and customers repeatedly not wearing masks to misleading proper masks signage.

Before the complaints, White says his business had an A+ Gold Star store rating from the Flathead County Health Department. He says his business has a number of different sanitation measures in place including masks for patrons at the front door. His frustrations fall on the inability to police all customers into wearing masks while making sure his 12 employees stay safe without feeling threatened.

“Can you imagine my 20-year old granddaughter by herself working and telling some burly man to put on a mask and be accosted by him?” White asked. “How am I the police for the mask mandate? We’ve done everything we possibly can.”

MTN News contacted Governor Steve Bullock’s office for a response to employees feeling threatened over policing the state’s mask mandate.

The governor’s office replied back by email saying, “Any threats of violence are against the law and are completely unacceptable against any Montanan, especially business owners attempting to keep their staff, customers, and the community safe from the virus.”

“It’s important to note that businesses subject to enforcement in Flathead had repeated, willful violations in which both staff and patrons were observed not wearing masks, among other deficiencies. We look forward to working with them to help these businesses protect their customers and staff,” the email also stated.

During a Tuesday press conference, Gov. Bullock said he hopes the five businesses in Flathead County avoid court hearings by following the directives set in place by health officials.

“The goal certainly isn’t to punish any business; the goal is to keep employees and customers safe and healthy during this pandemic,” Gov. Bullock said.

Hearing dates for four of the businesses receiving complaints are set between November 2 and November 10. A hearing date has not been set yet for Kalispell's Scotty Bar.