The Jersey Shore’s continuing mask wars led an iconic ice cream parlor to do the unthinkable: temporarily shut its doors at the start of the busy Fourth of July weekend.

Springer’s, in Stone Harbor, one of the essential Shore ice cream parlors, voluntarily closed to a busy July 1 and 2 crowd after a coronavirus scare among employees, who were also being berated by mask-less customers, its owner said.

Now, owner Mary Humphreys says, all customers in line and at the window will be required to wear masks in order to be served by the ice cream shop, which boasts that it has been serving ice cream in Stone Harbor “since the days of Prohibition.”

“I don’t want to be the weak link in all of this,” Humphreys said Monday. “Thankfully, everybody has tested negative.”

One employee, who no longer works there, tested positive in late June while on a trip, Humphreys said. That led to concerns about other employees. Then another family of an employee also reported that they’d been in contact with someone who had tested positive. Humphreys made the decision to shut down altogether.

“I don’t want to be the business that just assumes it’s no big deal and you just stay open and then suddenly you’ve got an outbreak,” she said. The shop employs about 35 people, ranging in age from 14 to mid-20s, she said.

She cautioned that visitors to the Shore should not be complacent because of businesses that do not seem to have any issues with employees testing positive. They may just not be as open about it as she is, she said. She said she’s received calls from other Stone Harbor business owners dealing quietly with similar issues.

“You’ve got to know there’s other businesses dealing with it,” she said. “Customers are saying, at least you’re being honest.”

One of her employees, she said, was chewed out by a customer after the employee asked her to put her mask, which was around her neck, back over her face.

“She turned around to the crowd and said, ‘Can you believe this kid? You don’t have the authority to enforce anything,‘” Humphreys recalled.

As noted by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, and again Monday in his daily briefing, mask usage at the Jersey Shore has been spotty, at best, and mostly nonexistent on beaches, despite crowds throughout the holiday weekend.

Unlike Springer’s, Murphy said he was not yet ready to issue a mask requirement outdoors, but was looking into it. Masks are currently required only indoors in New Jersey.

Visitors pack the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ on July 4, 2020. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Fourth of July weekend brought large crowds to beaches and boardwalks along the South Jersey coast.
JEFF FUSCO / For the Inquirer
Visitors pack the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ on July 4, 2020. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Fourth of July weekend brought large crowds to beaches and boardwalks along the South Jersey coast.

Humphreys posted a long explanation for the shutdown on Facebook, dispelling rumors that the shop was closed by the state, and explaining the zero-tolerance policy for not wearing masks that will now be in place.

She said she “closed her eyes and hit send,” on the post, but that the response has been mostly positive.

The shop reopened July 3, taking a significant financial hit the two previous days, she said.

“Masks are not a political issue for us; they are an issue of public health and safety – plain and simple,” Humphreys wrote. She compared wearing masks to other precautions taken by food-service employees, like hair nets and gloves.

“The only thing new about masks is that it is a two-way street,” she said. “We need you to participate in this particular precaution.”

Anyone not wearing a mask, she said, should not bother coming to Springer’s for ice cream. The shop does not allow anyone inside. Orders are taken on the website, or while waiting in line, with employees going outside to take orders. The fulfilled orders are placed on a table outside.

“I respect the choice of those people that do not want to wear a mask and when our communities are free and clear from this pandemic and we do not have to wear masks any longer, we will gladly serve you ice cream again,” she said. “But for this year, if you want to get ice cream at Springer’s, you must wear a mask.”

Following is a post to answer some of your questions and concerns that have poured in since our decision to close on...

Posted by Springer's Homemade Ice Cream on Friday, July 3, 2020

A lingering issue, Humphreys said, is people sticking around to eat their ice cream, not a mask-friendly activity.

“They stand around on the property and eat their ice cream,” she said. “And it’s like, ‘Everybody just move along.‘”

She said of her mask requirement, “If you’re doing your part, we’ve set it up that it shouldn’t be a risk no matter what. You should never be in front of our employees for more than 10 minutes.”

As for the wait, that’s always an issue at Springer’s, as one commenter noted. “First of all, anyone who complains about waiting 30 minutes for a milkshake has clearly never been to Springer’s before. #worththewait,” wrote one woman.