KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A local couple noticed different businesses had different levels of compliance with wearing masks. They would post what they saw on social media but it seemed like that information needed a broader reach.
Three weeks ago they started the Facebook page called Mask Up Knoxville. It has almost 6,000 followers.
Think of it as a heads up on safety.
"It's really awkward if you go to a business and you walk in and you realize, oh, no one is wearing masks, no one is taking any precautions, I don't want to be here. So it's better to know ahead of time where we can go," Robin Nichols said.
She is one of the admins for Mask Up Knoxville.
She says posts on the Facebook page must be a first-hand report of a visit to a local business.
"We try to emphasize the positives and the good places to go."
The page has a search function and recommendations by category.
"There are some people that have been doing really well, right from the start. I'm very impressed. Publix has been doing very well. Trader Joe's right on top of it. Markham Jewelers also on top of it," she said.
Scrolling through the comments reveals both short reports and long descriptions.
"We've seen some real benefits for Knoxville because we have people coming in from Lenoir City and people coming up from Maryville because they know the conditions of the stores here are going to be good," she said.
Reviews also point out stores not following Knox mask rules. Sometimes it's workers, sometimes it's customers, sometimes it's management.
"I was really hopeful that the group would become obsolete after the mandate. And unfortunately that wasn't the case. We're had some reports especially where businesses feel like they can't enforce the mandate because some of the elected officials have said we don't believe in this mandate," she said.
Robin Nichols has found that when workers wear masks properly, that seems to influence customers to do the same. And the opposite holds true.
"As soon as you feel like somebody else doesn't care about whether you are wearing a mask you take it off. And that's what the customers are doing," she said.
Mask Up Knoxville encourages stores to participate.
"We do invite businesses to come to the group and tell us about the policies you're putting in place, tell us how you are keeping us safe. And we will o ogo there. We will absolutely buy things from you if we know we can be safe there," she said.
For example, the owner of Sweet P's Barbeque points out the restaurant's option for no contact curbside service and its mask mandate.
"When I find out that a business wants to take care of its employees it makes me want to visit them much more," she said.
Mask Up Knoxville is a virtual community trying to make a real difference.
A Facebook search for Mask Up reveals other area groups including Blount County, Sevier County and Nashville.