The owner of a popular Exeter off licence says he has been spat at, abused and threatened with having his shop burnt down – all by people who have refused to wear face coverings.

Darrell Ford, who owns Beer Box on Blackboy Road, has urged people to be more understanding of small businesses and the challenges they face in operating during the coronavirus pandemic.

He says not only are his taking down by around 60 per cent, but he has also had to call the police on a number of occasions due to people refusing to wear masks.

“It has been difficult for the last few months,” said Darrell, who has owned Beerbox for 20 years now.

“The rules seem to be getting tighter and tighter, particularly regarding face masks, but we always get someone now and again who thinks they are immune to the situation.



Darrell Ford, owner Beer Box in Blackboy Road, Exeter

“I have had to call the police when people have refused to leave after not wearing a mask. Someone else spat at me and another came in telling me that he had Covid. Someone has even threatened to burn my shop down.

“I’ve had lots of situations like that and, as a small shop owner, it is really difficult. It’s a small shop and I am trying to protect both themselves and me.

“A lot of people, especially students, are very compliant. I would say about 95 per cent of people are fine, but every day there is one person who does not want to wear a mask.

“I am here to try and perform a service but people walk right through it sometimes. They don’t realise that I do have the right to not serve people if they are not wearing a mask.”



Darrell Ford, has owned Beer Box in Blackboy Road, Exeter for 18 years
Darrell says he has trouble with people refusing to wear masks most days

On Tuesday, all four major UK supermarket chains – Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco – announced that they will ban shoppers who refuse to wear face coverings unless they have a valid medical reason following concerns over the behaviour of shoppers in stores.

Waitrose said it was also making face coverings mandatory.

Wearing a face covering is compulsory in England unless it is a child under the age of 11, or people are exempt for medical reasons.

The Government website says it is up to shops to ‘promote reasonable compliance with the law’, but the police ‘can take measures if members of the public do not comply with this law without a valid exemption’.

But the issue of exemption can be difficult.



Beer Box, on Exeter’s Blackboy Road

Those with exemption cards are not required to show them and you ‘do not need to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about your reason for not wearing a face covering’.

Carrying an exemption card or badge is a personal choice and is not required by law.

People can even download exemption card templates from the Government website to fill in themselves.

Darrell says he judges each person who declines to wear a mask on an individual basis, but he says it can often cause problems in his shop.

“I judge each person on their individual merits,” he said. “Quite often though, people want to have a debate with you about it, about coronavirus or about the Government. People want to argue the rights and wrongs with you.

“Last night (Tuesday, January 12) this guy came in who was already quite tipsy and kept gesturing for a bottle of Southern Comfort. I kept on telling him not to touch it but he kept touching it.

“Eventually I told him to leave but he got very aggressive with me. The police have told me that you can ask someone to leave three times and if they don’t, they are trespassing.

“This chap just did not want to leave. He was very awkward and started videoing me and was very difficult. It was not a nice situation to be in and has happened a few times in the last couple of months.

“The irony last night was the police arrived very quickly, which was great to be honest, but the policeman who dealt with it came into the shop not wearing a mask!”

After being asked by DevonLive for further information, a Devon and Cornwall Police spokesperson said: “Police were called to an off licence on Blackboy Road, Exeter, at 5:30pm on Tuesday 12 January.

“A male customer was asked to leave after refusing to wear a face covering and then became abusive and aggressive to staff.

“Police attended but the customer had already left, and all was in order.”

Darrell did initially close the shop for three months at the start of the pandemic.

Upon reopening, he said he was touched at how glad people were to see the shop open again – so he has decided to keep going for as long as he can.



Beer Box is popular with students in the area

“It is a real struggle,” he admitted.

“It was okay in August, September, October and November, but December and January has been tough. We are predominantly popular with students and cater for that market but there are just not as many here now.

“Takings are down about 60 per cent so I could quite easily close and furlough myself, but I think I should be there for people and it would not be the right thing to do.

“People said they missed me when I was closed the first time and that is quite humbling. I know i am only a little off licence but it matters to a lot of people around here.”





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