The conversation has raged on for months as to whether or not we should be covering our faces, which materials are the most effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19, whether the masks that medical professionals were already wearing for hours a day will randomly suffocate you, and what wildly misinterpreted Constitutional excerpts are “at stake” every time you’re asked to wear a mask to buy peanut butter at a Trader Joe’s. (To reiterate, experts and medical professionals pretty much unanimously agree that we should all be wearing masks in public in the middle of a deadly global pandemic.)
Many of those debates stay on social media (Twitter was already a hellhole for years), but more and more of those arguments seem to be manifested as screaming at a 16-year-old with a stack of waffle cones.
Ice cream shops have become ground zero for mask debates, with troubling regularity and particularly harrowing experiences for their young employees. On Saturday, the teenage staff at the Front Porch in Springlake, Michigan were verbally abused by four groups of customers who didn’t want to wear masks in the store, and a fifth group was so awful that the shop’s owner had to call the police.
Kelly Larson told MLive that she thought that people wouldn’t be surprised by the Front Porch’s mask requirements at this point, and she also hoped that everyone would be slightly nicer to her teenage workers.
“I’ve got to speak up not only for my kids but all of these kids, that’s who our frontline workers are in Grand Haven,” she said. “They need a lot more respect and love from us than they’ve been getting.”
In a followup Facebook post, she wrote that she doesn’t see masks as a political statement; she sees them as a way to help her business, her employees, and her community “see the other side” of the pandemic. “These aren’t our rules but we are mandated by the health department to follow them,” she continued. “If you want to make a statement, call our elected officials or better yet call the governor’s office. Start a peaceful protest. But to yell at teenagers in an ice cream store and make them cry is not a way to promote change.”
And again, this isn’t an isolated event. Here are several other incidents that involved maladjusted adults taking out their frustrations on teenage ice cream shop employees. Here’s just a sampling:
May 8: Polar Cave Ice Cream Parlour (Mashpee, Massachusetts)
On the day that Mark Lawrence reopened his ice cream shop for the season, he said his “A-Team” of workers—all between the ages of 15 and 20—had clocked in and were ready to go. Six of them were inside the shop and seven were outside, split between stations so they could take orders from parked cars, scoop ice cream, and field online orders. By the end of the night, the staff had been subjected to so much abuse that one 18-year-old girl quit. Lawrence told the Boston Globe that after “hours of F-bombs and slurs” she didn’t even want to be paid or take her tips, she just wanted to dip out. In a heartbreaking Facebook post, Lawrence called that night “the lowest feeling I have ever felt” in almost two decades of running the shop.
June 29: Little Man Ice Cream (Denver, Colorado)
Owner Paul Tamburello told 9News that he was “shocked” by the reactions that he’d seen from customers when they were told about the shop’s mask policy. He said that one customer coughed all over the counter and toward others who were waiting to order, while another actually spat on one of his teenage workers. “I understand people’s choice not to wear a mask,” he said. “I don’t understand them taking it up with a 16-year-old scooping ice cream. I just feel like that’s not the place to do that.”
June 29: Twist Ice Cream (Swartz Creek, Michigan)
In a Facebook post, the shop warned that if customers continued to cause problems and harass its workers over its mask requirement, it would be forced to close its lobby for the rest of the season. “We cannot let our employees continue to be treated in this manner,” the owners wrote. It repeated that request in an attached graphic that explained its assorted pandemic related policies. “We ask that you do not take your frustrations out on our employees,” it explained. “These are kids and young adults trying to earn money for school, and in many cases, working to help out their families who have also been affected by job loss during these times.”
June 30: Mootown Creamery (Berea, Ohio)
Owner Angela Brooks is clear: customers either have to wear a mask inside the store, or they have to wait outside for a (masked) staffer to take their order. You might’ve picked up on a theme here, so no, that approach hasn’t been received well in Ohio, either. “We’ve had everything from customers stomping their feet, slamming the doors, screaming and yelling, cussing at the girls, calling them names, it’s been awful,” Brooks told WOIO. (“Does it feel good to make a 16-year-old girl cry in the bathroom? Or sob on her way home from work?” she wrote on Facebook. “Knock it off!!!!!!”)
“No one’s enjoying it, like no one thinks this is fun or anything,” Mootown worker Eva Mihelich said. “Like, [COVID-19] ruined my senior year of high school and everything, so like the last thing I want is for someone to come in and yell at me and that I’m the problem.”
July 2: Coldstone Creamery (Leavenworth, Washington)
When the Coldstone staffers told a teenage girl that state law said they couldn’t serve her unless she wore a face mask, she angrily left the store. Two hours later, her mother went back to screech at everyone behind the counter for enforcing the policy. A 21-year-old Coldstone employee defended her coworkers and was ultimately fired for it (although Coldstone later offered to re-hire her). The ‘adult’ in the scenario told KING5 that “leftists” had created a “hostile environment in Leavenworth” and that’s why her kid didn’t get a cup of Mud Pie Mojo or whatever.
July 7: The North Pole (Chittenango, New York)
A maskless woman and man were stopped at the counter by The North Pole’s two teenage employees and told that they needed to cover their faces in order to be served. Instead of complying, the couple yelled at the girls before going on a lengthy rant about how they didn’t need to wear masks or “need to believe” the World Health Organization. The workers closed the window to the ice cream stand, but the woman physically wrestled it back open so she could keep screaming at them. “It was honestly very scary for us,” 18-year-old Tori Broniszewski told Syracuse.com.
Two days later, another female customer berated the employees so aggressively that the police had to be called. “If you DON’T WANT TO WEAR A MASK, please just stay home, don’t purposely drive to my parlor to harass my girls,” The North Pole’s owner, Alexandria Ciotti, wrote on Facebook. “I don’t want to lose my staff because they are afraid to come to work. They mean so much to me.”
July 15: Brickley’s Ice Cream (Wakefield, Rhode Island)
The owners of Brickley’s Ice Cream made the decision to close their Wakefield location for the rest of the year after two men “argued with, swore at and verbal [sic] abused both our staff” after being told that they couldn’t eat their ice cream inside the shop. When another customer stepped in, the two men started to threaten that person, too. “[T]hings almost came to blows,” Brickley’s wrote on Facebook. “This is unacceptable and is becoming unsafe for both our staff and customers. We have a limited and young staff at our Wakefield store and must keep them safe.”
July 20: Uhlman’s Ice Cream (Westborough, Massachusetts)
Kelly Donley, the manager at Uhlman’s, told the MetroWest Daily News that she has had to call the shop’s owner at least six times this summer to help de-escalate situations involving customers who have gotten aggressive over its mask policy. “The sad part is that these people are yelling and screaming at 16 and 17-year-old employees,” she said. Last month, an Ohio family of five—including their young kids—all took turns shouting at the Ulhman’s workers about “constitutional liberties.” They eventually left after the owner threatened to call the cops.
It should go without saying, but for the love of god, don’t do this. If you want ice cream but don’t want to wear a mask, it’s probably best for everyone if you just stay at home and place a GoPuff order.