LONE TREE, Colo. — Darcy Velasquez and her mom, Roberta Truax, have been strolling lately within the Park Meadows mall about 15 miles south of downtown Denver, wanting for Christmas presents for Ms. Velasquez’s two kids, after they noticed a retailer with a show of rhinestone-studded masks.
And whereas it has lengthy been true that sparkles can go a good distance with a 9-year-old woman, this retailer was one thing new. It is known as Covid-19 Essentials, and it could be the nation’s first retail chain devoted solely to merchandise necessitated by an infectious illness.
With many U.S. shops closing throughout the coronavirus pandemic, particularly inside malls, the chain has seized on the empty house, in addition to the world’s rising acceptance that sporting masks is a actuality which will final effectively into 2021, if not longer. Masks have advanced from a utilitarian, anything-you-can-find-that-works product into one other means to specific one’s persona, political leanings or sports activities fandom.
And the house owners of Covid-19 Essentials are betting that Americans are prepared to put their cash towards overlaying the place their mouth is. Prices vary from $19.99 for a easy kids’s masks to $130 for the top-of-the-line face overlaying, with an N95 filter and a battery-powered fan.
Almost all retailers and lots of kiosks at Park Meadows, in Lone Tree, now promote masks. But Covid-19 Essentials additionally carries different equipment for the pandemic, in a house that has a extra established really feel than a vacation pop-up retailer; everlasting signage above its glass doorways consists of a stylized picture of a coronavirus particle. Not that the house owners need their merchandise to be in demand perpetually.
“I can’t wait to go out of business eventually,” mentioned Nadav Benimetzky, a Miami retailer who based Covid-19 Essentials, which now has eight places across the nation.
Nathan Chen, who owns the Lone Tree retailer with Mr. Benimetzky, beforehand ran a totally different retailer on the Denver airport, however as air journey declined, a Covid-focused enterprise appeared a significantly better enterprise.
Mr. Benimetzky opened the primary Covid-19 Essentials within the Aventura Mall in suburban Miami after seeing the demand for N95 masks early within the pandemic.
“They’re ugly and uncomfortable, and everybody hates them,” he mentioned. “I piggybacked off of that. If you’re going to wear a mask, you might as well make it fashionable and pretty.”
That might imply a sequin or satin masks for extra formal events, or the toothy grin of a cranium masks for informal affairs. Some masks have zippers to make consuming simpler, or a gap for a straw, with a Velcro closure for when the drink is empty.
The chain has places in New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Las Vegas, and is wanting to open shops in California, the place the wildfires have solely added to the demand for masks.
“We didn’t go into it with the idea of opening many stores,” Mr. Benimetzky mentioned. “But we got busy from the second we opened.”
Nancy Caeti, 76, stopped within the Lone Tree retailer to purchase masks for her grandchildren. She purchased one with a clear panel for her granddaughter, whose signal language teacher wants to see her lips shifting. She purchased her daughter, a music instructor and Denver Broncos fan, a masks with the soccer group’s emblem.
“I lived through the polio epidemic,” Ms. Caeti mentioned as her latex-gloved hand inserted her bank card into the reader. “It reminds me of that, but that I don’t think was as bad.” She recalled how her mom had lined her and her siblings up to get the polio vaccine, and mentioned she’d be first in line for a coronavirus shot.
That maybe is the one important the shop doesn’t carry. It hawks keylike units for opening doorways and urgent elevator buttons with out touching them. Some have a built-in bottle opener. There are ultraviolet-light units for disinfecting telephones, and upscale hand sanitizer that workers spray on prospects as if it have been a division retailer fragrance pattern.
But the masks are the most important draw. The retailer can personalize them with rhinestone letters or iron-on patches.
Upon entry, prospects can verify their temperature with a digital brow scanner with audible instructions: “Step closer. Step closer. Temperature normal. Temperature normal.” The retailer additionally has a sink close to the doorway so prospects can wash their arms earlier than dealing with the merchandise.
Some mallgoers stroll by the shop in bewilderment, stopping to take photographs to submit to social media with a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding message.
The retailer takes no political sides; there are three designs for Trump 2020 masks and two for Joseph R. Biden Jr. One lady got here in sporting a masks under her nostril and puzzled whether or not a Trump masks would match her smallish face.
The Trump masks are among the many extra widespread sellers, Mr. Chen mentioned, so he retains them in a greater cupboard to accommodate the additional inventory. Masks with “Black Lives Matter” on them are within the storefront show.
Daniel Gurule, 31, stopped by the mall on his lunch hour to choose up an Apple Watch however ventured into the shop for a new masks. He mentioned that he usually wore a vented masks however that not all locations allowed these. (They shield customers however not the individuals round them.) He purchased a $24.99 masks with the emblem of the Denver Nuggets basketball group.
“It takes away a little bit of our personalities when everybody is walking around in disposable masks,” Mr. Chen mentioned. “It kind of looks like a hospital, like everybody is sick.”
Most of the masks are sewn particularly for the chain, together with many by hand. One provider is a household of Vietnamese immigrants who sew masks at their Los Angeles residence, Mr. Benimetzky mentioned. Mr. Chen mentioned that it was onerous to maintain masks in inventory, and that each day it appeared another design turned their finest vendor.
Dorothy Lovett, 80, paused outdoors the shop, leaning on a cane with an animal print design.
“I had to back up and say, ‘What the heck is this?’” she mentioned. “I’ve never seen a mask store before.”
She perused the show case, noting she wanted to discover a higher possibility than the fabric masks she was sporting.
“I can’t breathe in this one,” mentioned Ms. Lovett, who’s white, earlier than deciding on her favourite. “I like the Black Lives Matter mask.”
This article was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially unbiased nonprofit information service of the Kaiser Family Foundation. The writer is a reporter for Kaiser Health News.