BRYAN, TX — During the height of the pandemic, Texans knew to keep six feet apart and not touch while in public. Now that the state has reopened and many adults have been vaccinated, some may wonder; will high fives, hugs and handshakes make a comeback?
“I would kind of take a cue from [customers], but certainly if it was somebody I knew, I would go give them a hug," said Terri Ridinger, co-owner of Hob Knob Interior Hardware in downtown Bryan. "If it was somebody I didn’t know, just a stranger walking in, I would introduce myself and kind of take a cue if they wanted to shake hands.”
This was the policy of Ridinger and her husband, Ken, before the pandemic started. Once COVID-19 was widespread, like all other businesses, the Hob Knob owners made sure they were taking precautions; even separating customers by rooms.
Though Gov. Greg Abbott has lifted statewide mandates for mask and social distancing protocol, Ridinger said she has still been somewhat cautious when approaching customers.
“We haven’t been offering our hands as much," she commented. "But I had a customer come in today and offer his hand, and I absolutely shook it. But we’ve been trying to be very mindful of what the customer [wants], taking a cue from them.”
Just across town at Star Furniture on Briarcrest Drive, employees are still wearing masks and keeping a safe distance from customers; even those staff members who are fully vaccinated, like Eugene Smith.
“I still like to social distance, and we are required to wear a mask even though the customer is not [forced] to do that," Smith explained. "They can come in without their mask if they want to. Sometimes I do bump hands, so instead of a handshake I do a fist bump.”
Smith said he tries to use other tactics of good customer service to reach people, even when he can’t offer them a friendly handshake.
“People can tell within your voice if you’re sincere with them," he said. "And if you just make them feel comfortable with the tone of your voice, and show enthusiasm towards having them in the store, they realize that the pandemic did change a lot of things, and a lot of people are still being cautious.”
Overall, these local businesses expressed that it seems hard to predict the future, and whether social interactions will return to the way they were in 2019.
“I’m worried," Terri Ridinger said. "Just going to the grocery store, half the people are wearing masks, half aren’t, and I wonder – some people may always wear masks and never be as comfortable shaking hands and giving hugs.”
“Things do pass," noted Eugene Smith. "But we need to realize, be careful while [the pandemic] is here.”
According to the Center for Disease Control [CDC] website, un-vaccinated Americans still need to practice social distancing. However, if a person has been fully vaccinated, they may resume connection with others without masks or distancing, as long as one is in a place where the law or a business’ guidelines don’t prohibit it.