SARATOGA SPRINGS — Campfire s’moreo. Bourbon truffle maker. Baked placid cheesecake, and mango dragon fruit sherbet. There are more than 60 different flavors available at Stewart’s Shops, including those four which are part of the summertime limited edition kind. This summer, the company thought it a most appropriate time to re-introduce a limited-edition flavor that first premiered two years ago. It’s called: Civility.
“Just plain old kindness,” “getting along with people,” “putting out a positive energy to everybody you come across,” sound the endorsements in the company’s 80-second video clip re-introducing the ice cream flavor.
“It initially launched in 2018, a time when things were similar to how they are today - a country divided,” Stewart’s Shops spokeswoman Erica Komoroske said this week. “Right now, we’re having a big issue with masks. People are really divided on the mask issue. COVID-19 has put people on edge and we see a lot of hostility, customers yelling at each other in our shops about wearing a mask. What better time to bring back ‘civility,’” she says.
By definition the practice of extending basic politeness and respect to all citizens of society; by flavor, a vanilla based ice cream with a salty caramel swirl thought up by owner Bill Dake and created at the company manufacturing plant in Greenfield. “It’s a non-nut flavor,” she says. “We’ve had dozens and dozens of requests from customers to bring Civility back.”
Stewart’s Shops are deemed essential businesses and as such have remained open for the duration of the COVID period. It counts approximately two dozen shops within 10 miles of Saratoga Springs, 55 shops in Saratoga County and approximately 5,000 employees and 337 stores in New York and Southern Vermont.
On July 1, the company posted a lengthy statement on its web site detailing its priority to protect the health and safety of customers and employees, its adherence to CDC recommended guidelines and the protocols it was taking: the installation of plexiglass barriers at cash registers, offering hand sanitizer for customer use, regularly sanitizing high-touch areas, and posting signage to enforce customer social distancing, among them.
All shop employees - across New York and Vermont - are required to wear face coverings. Store signage informs that customers over the age of 2 medically able to do so are also required to cover their face with a mask or cloth face covering. However, it the customers’ responsibility to comply with the mask order.
“A mask is required, but we can’t put our partners in a position to enforce it,” Komoroske says. We’re trying to offer gentle reminders to customers – ‘hey, did you forget your mask today?’ There have been physical altercations in our parking lot. There have been customers chased with a tire iron. This mask issue has definitely divided people.”
The problem, she says, is the wearing of masks is not mandated by law. “If Ag & Markets came out with a law that said masks are mandatory, we would have better backing to enforce it as well,” she says.
“It’s not a law, it’s an executive order,” says Robin Dalton, public safety commissioner in Saratoga Springs. “There is no enforcement that is available to us as a local municipality to do anything other than remind and strongly encourage people to wear their masks. We are completely hamstrung. Our police department very much wants to follow the rule of law, but they are not going to write a ticket for something they know is not a law and not enforceable,” Dalton says.
“Personally – I think every single person should be wearing a mask when they step outside. If they aren’t around people, they should have it dangling on their wrist, like I do, so the second they see someone coming into their space, throw it on, or cross the street,” she explains. “There are a lot of people stuck at home, who are terrified to go downtown and terrified to go outside because other people are not willing to show them the common courtesy and respect of putting on a face mask. I think it has to do with safety, and with respect. We are such a philanthropic and giving community, but when it comes to this one particular issue, for some reason which I will never understand, it’s polarizing.”
A survey initiated by Saratoga-based tourism agencies conducted in June in which just over 3,200 participated, listed “masks worn by employees” as the top safety precautions businesses and their employees can take that will motivate respondents to visit their businesses. The results of the survey, publicly released July 8, also listed “a lack of trust in venues enforcing proper safety guidelines” as the main reason nearly 1,000 of the respondents are deterred from visiting Saratoga County.
The survey partnered Mind Genomics the Saratoga County Chamber, Discover Saratoga, the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership and other agencies and was designed to glean information about what will motivate respondents to visit Saratoga County in the next six months.
Absent stronger language from the state regarding mandatory mask-wearing of customers, Stewart’s Shops is test-marketing different ideas.
“We’re rolling out a test right now offering complimentary masks in one of our district of 17 shops in Valatie, and we’re trying to learn: are people going to respond? will they take the mask? how will they respond if a partner offers them a mask?” Komoroske says. “if that test goes well, we’ll roll that out company-wide.”