WENDELL — ReOpenNC held a rally in support of a Wendell-area business which has been cited for not complying with Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest mask mandate.
Members of ReOpenNC met on Saturday, Dec. 5 in front of the Wendell General Store, located on North Main Street in Wendell in eastern Wake County. According to a press release, ReOpenNC co-founder Ashley Smith organized the rally to “challenge Gov. Cooperʼs and Wake County Sheriff Department’s illegal and unconstitutional actions against the small business owner.”
The business in question is owned and operated by Regina Harmon, a member of ReOpenNC. Harmon’s store was targeted over a sign previously posted in the store window about masks which ultimately resulted in Harmon being given a criminal citation for one count of “aiding and abetting the violation of an executive order.”
“This all over a sign Regina pinned on her door stating that masks were not required-brought to light by an article posted by the News And Observer on Tuesday and quickly discovered and escalated by the Wake County District Attorney,” a ReOpenNC Facebook post reads. “Regina has no plan to mandate masks in her business. Let’s get behind Regina as she continues to defy unconstitutional mandates infiltrating our beloved NC municipalities. WE CAN’T ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN IN OUR STATE.”
The Facebook post was accompanied by an image of the sign, which reads, “Wendell General Store Face Covering Policy. You do not have to wear one in Wendell General Store. Exceptions to every rule!” On the bottom of the sign in smaller lettering states “If you would like to wear one you can, but those who do not wear one I will not ask why.”
According to Executive Order 180, it is now mandatory to wear a mask or face covering whenever a person is in contact with people who are not of their household, both indoors and outside. It also allows police to be called by a business if a person refuses to wear a mask or if that person refuses to leave the business.
Both businesses and individuals can be cited by police for violating the order. The penalty is a Class 2 misdemeanor that can carry a $1,000 fine and up to 60 days in jail.
In a video posted to the ReOpenNC page from the event, Smith noted that she walked in and out of businesses along Mainstreet in Wendell without a mask on and was not stopped by any individual or business owner.
“I don’t know how we’re still in this situation of picking winners and losers,” said Smith in the video. “I don’t think she [Harmon] has done anything differently than any other business owner in this community or other communities and yet she’s been singled out and picked on.”
Rally goers came from as far away as Charlotte and New Bern.
A separate video of an interview with Harmon was posted to ReOpenNC group’s Facebook page by Bradley Dixon. In the interview, Harmon says she has owned the Wendell General Store for seven years and first started the business as a charity fundraiser when “nothing else was here.”
Harmon told Dixon that the citation she was given names her as an individual, not her business.
“A mandate is not a law,” Harmon said of Cooper’s mask order. She went on to say the only laws we have to follow are the ones “put on the books.”
When Cooper initiated his first mask mandate, Harmon said she had a sign up that was similar to the one she was cited for. She said she explained to local police who questioned the sign that there were exceptions to the mandate and that her sign was following the rules. She said the police “backed off.”
Harmon said there were “anonymous callers” to the Wendell Police Department about her mask sign which prompted officers to show up at her store last week.
It was after the visit by police that Harmon said a reporter from the News & Observer called about the sign and was told by Harmon to come by and read it himself. After receiving a flurry of texts and calls, Harmon said she “found out the N&O had run a false story about me.”
Harmon said that from what she understands, the News & Observer “tweaked the story” multiple times. After the story ran, the police called Harmon and apologized that they were going to have to issue her a citation.
The officer, which Harmon refused to name, told her that everything he was writing in the citation was “exactly what the DA told him to say.” The Wake County District Attorney is Lorrin Freeman, a Democrat, whose current term expires in 2022.
Harmon characterized Cooper’s latest mask mandate as “forcing more businesses to be police officers.”
“No offense to Cooper if he is watching, but it is not my job to police my customers. It is my job to run a business and make money for my family, my livelihood and the people the work for me,” Harmon said looking directly into the camera. “There is nothing in the Constitution that gives you, sir, the right to take that away from me. I just want to make that very clear, sir.”
Harmon said it was unclear how high up the order to cite her originated. She said she’s had to retain a lawyer to deal with the matter.
The Wendell General Store thanked community members and supporters in a Dec. 4 post on Facebook. The post went on to ask for help with legal bills, directing supporters to the store’s Venmo account.