SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — This last day of Washington state's mask mandate is like a light at the end of a long, two-year tunnel. Employees at The Garden Coffee and Local Eats in Spokane Valley are really looking forward to seeing smiles again.
The mask mandate will be lifted at midnight on Friday night. The owner of The Garden, CJ Curtis, calls this good news.
"I love being able to look around and see the smiles and see the faces," Curtis said.
She said those smiles are how they connect with customers and remember the regulars. Instead, under the mask mandate, her team found other ways to brighten someone's day.
"You just brighten up your entire face and make sure the customer knows you're happy to see them," The Garden barista Tiona Wilson said.
Wilson said wearing masks all day came with other challenges as well.
"It's also difficult with hearing as well because people's mouths are covered," Wilson said. "I remember that being an issue, especially in the drive-thru. People can be like really quiet."
Despite these challenges, Curtis believes her team is stronger because of them.
"We've all learned a lot of great lessons and we're all going to be tighter because of it," Curtis said. "That's just my hope. I'm just a glass half full kind of person."
But now they're ready to see those smiles and maybe hear their customers more easily.
"It will be refreshing to not have something covering your face anymore," Wilson said.
Not all businesses are getting rid of the mask requirement though. If you're planning to see the Broadway musical, Wicked, masks are still required even after the mandate is lifted.
At the Knitting Factory, there will still be the occasional show with COVID protocols based on an artist's request.