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Will Small Business Foot Traffic Rise with Eased Mask Restrictions?

Apr 28, 2021 by Maurie Backman
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As coronavirus vaccines increasingly roll out to the public, there's hope that at some point in the not-so-distant future, things will return to normal, or as close to normal as possible given there's still a pandemic at play. For a long time now, vaccinated folks have been wondering what is and isn't safe for them to do.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declared that travel is considered low risk for those who are fully vaccinated. And now, the agency has issued new guidelines on masks as well.

The green light to unmask outdoors

At large gatherings, like concerts and sporting events, fully vaccinated people are still being told to mask up. But those who are fully vaccinated and attending smaller outdoor gatherings can ditch the masks going forward. The same holds true for outdoor dining. Different households that are fully vaccinated can gather at the same table and enjoy a meal without having to mask up between bites.

Of course, the CDC still wants to see people masked in indoor settings -- even those who are fully vaccinated. And of course, those who haven't gotten a vaccine should continue to mask up to protect themselves as well as those around them. But for now, the masks can come off when the circumstances align.

Will small businesses benefit from the new guidelines?

Restaurants have been hammered in the course of the pandemic, and many are still at risk of shutting down permanently. If that were to happen, it would be bad news for commercial landlords, who can't afford to lose tenants and the rental income they account for.

But the CDC's mask guidance is actually great news for restaurants, many of which have expanded their outdoor dining setups to accommodate more guests. If the fully vaccinated can dine together more easily, restaurants may see an uptick in demand.

The news is also good for other outdoor businesses, like open-air markets. But for many local businesses, these new guidelines may not make much of a difference. The CDC is still holding firm on the fact that masks should remain a requirement in indoor settings. Since most local businesses operate indoors, consumers who are fearful to enter an establishment due to COVID-related concerns may not change their tune just because they've been told that being maskless outdoors is okay. Also, those opposed to wearing masks won't get a reprieve indoors, so it could mean that some consumers will continue to stay away from local businesses.

Let's also not forget that while certain restrictions may be loosening up, a lot of people are tightening their purse strings due to the financial blow the pandemic has dealt them. Those who were unemployed at some point over the past year, for example, may still be in the process of recovering from that bout of joblessness -- and may be spending more conservatively until their finances improve.

As such, it's fair to say that the CDC's announcement is great for restaurants and a limited number of smaller commercial real estate businesses, but it may not do all that much to boost local economies. A vast improvement on the pandemic front, eased restrictions on indoor mask-wearing, and increased clarity on vaccine-related protection will probably all be necessary to really boost foot traffic at the businesses that need more of it.

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