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Loudon store owner says $2,000 fine is an ‘overuse of state powers’

  • A sign on the door of the Loudon Village Country Store tells customers that masks are optional. Jonathan Van Fleet—Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 11/25/2020 2:34:33 PM

Dawn Plourde doesn’t think her employees or customers at the Loudon Village Country Store should be required to wear face masks and she’s not trying to hide her opinion.

A sign at the store announces as much.

“We will not require our employees or customers to wear masks!” the sign reads. “Please refer to the Constitution of the United States!”

On Friday, Plourde’s store – which sells pizza, sandwiches and burgers along with grocery items – was fined $2,000 by the state of New Hampshire for defying Gov. Chris Sununu’s executive order in June directing food service establishments to have employees and patrons wear masks during the coronavirus pandemic and the following statewide mask mandate that went into effect Nov. 20.

“Despite the use of the terms ‘guidelines’ and ‘guidance’ in the titles of these documents, your business is required to comply with the mandatory provisions of these documents if you want to continue to operate,” a letter to Plourde from the Attorney General’s Office reads.

Plourde was emailed a copy of the letter Wednesday afternoon.

“As a New Hampshire native, as a business owner, we decided that we weren’t going to require them,” she said Wednesday. “It’s ‘Live Free or Die.’ It’s use your common sense. People should be able to use their judgement.”

“Giving people a choice is a breath of fresh air, so to speak,” she added.

Loudon Fire Chief Tom Blanchette had visited the store multiple times and told Plourde to require face coverings be worn. Plourde complained to the Loudon Board of Selectmen that Blanchette was bullying her. Blanchette reported Plourde and the store’s sign on the store to the Attorney General’s office.

“We know how to wash our hands, clean surfaces and not cough or sneeze on people,” the sign says. “If you can do that and stay six feet away like someone tooted, please come in! If you need a mask to feel more comfortable, you can come in too!”

Plourde said her customers have appreciative of the sign and business has been strong.

“A lot of our customers are grateful to have a choice, but apparently they are taking that away,” she said. “Overnight they are starting to take away everyone’s choice.”

Plourde says she pays attention to the news about the virus the number of infections and deaths. On Wednesday. the day she was fined, the state announced 402 new positive cases of COVID-19 and one new death, bringing the total to 514 since the start of the pandemic.

Plourde said she know the virus is serious, but New Hampshire’s infection rates don’t warrant this level of government enforcement. She said she has made the personal decision not to go out to eat in restaurants or get her nails done. At the store, she will take food out to someone’s car – while wearing a mask – if that’s what they choose.

“Yes, the numbers are climbing, but I don’t think hurting businesses is the best thing to do,” said Plourde, who owns the store with her father, who is in his 80s. “It’s an overuse of state powers.”

Plourde said village store is small, with just two tables, and the risk of exposure to the virus is much less there than going to a Walmart or grocery store.

“If little businesses like this close down, people will be forced to go to those places,” Plourde said.

Plourde made the decision to close the store over the Thanksgiving weekend before she found out about the fine. The state gave her until Dec. 9 to pay up. She’s considering appealing.

Earlier this week, a restaurant near the Massachusetts border was fined $1,500 following a complaint about a lack of social distancing and mask wearing during the coronavirus pandemic, the state attorney general’s office said Tuesday.

The attorney general’s office said Grumpy’s Bar & Grill in Plaistow was visited by a police officer who was following up on a photo taken the day before showing “overcrowding, standing and mingling in the bar area, no social distancing between tables, and no face coverings.” The officer said the conditions were similar and that the only person wearing a face covering was the bartender.

Last week, the attorney general’s office had fined a bakery, bagel shop and Checkmate Pizza in Concord $500 each after repeated complaints about staff not wearing masks during the pandemic.

Plourde’s fine was one of the higher ones.

“Two thousand dollars is a good day and a half of my sales,” she said. “If I can’t pay my bills, I can’t stay open, which won’t sit well with the people in the town of Loudon.”

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.)

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