Mask Policies at Houston Grocery Stores, Farmers Markets, Specialty Grocers & More — Updated
When Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced on March 2 that he was rescinding most statewide COVID-19 safety protocols, including the mask mandate, social distancing and reduced occupancy guidelines for many businesses, including restaurants and bars. Starting on Wednesday, March 10, these businesses are allowed to operate at 100% capacity. The lack of state support for safety guidelines sent business owners scrambling to set their own policies, frontline workers worrying about their safety and customers searching for info about where they could shop and dine. Grocery stores, farmers markets and other food purveyors also find themselves on the front lines of this controversial issue, because everyone needs to eat.
One example of the difficulty and pressure this has put on business owners: Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B had to backtrack and clarify its policies. Initially, the company was going to require staff to wear masks but only “urged” customers to do the same. However, it has since reverted to its previous policy, stating, “While statewide policy has changed, our store protocol has not. Mask use at our stores will remain. Our signs requiring mask use will remain posted at entrances and we will continue to make announcements in store. We will continue to expect shoppers to wear masks while in our stores.”
The Greater Houston area has a plethora of establishments that sell groceries; not just the big, national chains but also mom-and-pop stores, gourmet grocers, international food specialty stores and vibrant farmers markets. Many quickly posted new policies. Others have yet to announce new safety protocols. We have collected as many food purveyor policies as we could find and have contacted many others and requested updates. Below is the information we have so far and we’ll update when we receive new details. If you do not see an establishment on this list, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t implemented safety protocols. It simply means we have not yet heard back or been able confirm the requirements.
If you visit any of these establishments or any other area food purveyor, please be kind to the staff — no matter what the policies are. This has been an excruciating decision for many owners and employees.
99 Ranch, multiple locations: Current corporate policy at this popular national chain specializing in Asian cuisines requires many safety protocols including mandating that employees and customers wear masks and maintain social distancing, and reduced occupancy of around 50%. The first hour of business each day is reserved for customers 60 and older, those living with disabilities, expectant mothers and those with compromised immune systems. Grocery delivery is also available to many areas, either directly from the store or via third-party delivery services.
Airline Seafood, 1841 Richmond: For over 75 years, this retailer has been offering Houstonians fresh seafood, including oysters, crawfish, shrimp and a large selection of fish from the Gulf. Mask up when you shop. They are continuing their previously announced safety protocols.
Aldi, multiple locations: This German-based discount grocer is continuing to follow its current safety measures, which require employees and customers to wear properly fitting face coverings and social distancing. Aisles also have directional markers on the floors to help customers navigate the store comfortably.
Braeswood Farmers Market, multiple locations: Open Wedndays 3 to 7 p.m. South Braeswood and 8620 Stella Link, Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at South Braeswood and 8620 Stella Link and Sundays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 8601, this farmers market is requiring vendors and customers to wear masks. In addition, in a statement sent via email, the market managers say, “Currently we encourage people to stay home when sick, encourage people to socially distance, require staff, volunteers, and vendors to use masks, provide hand washing stations or hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol for all, including customers, market staff, volunteers, and vendors, and encourage vendors to offer the same at their booth.”
Central City Co-Op, 420 East 20th: For almost 20 years, this co-op has sold fresh produce — much of it locally grown — and other artisanal products. After many years of being open once a week at a Montrose church, it now has a sleek new location in the Heights that is open six days a week. Masks are still required.
Central Market, 3815 Westheimer: Like parent company H-E-B, this gourmet-focused grocery chain, with only one Houston location in the Upper Kirby neighborhood, is requiring customers, employees and vendors to wear masks and adhere to social distancing. “The ending of mask ordinances puts real pressure on retailers to enforce an emotional topic for many,” reads the webpage about the policy. “We ask for kindness and understanding from our customers in our expectation of them to wear masks in our stores.”
Costco, multiple locations: Costco’s corporate policy was updated on March 9, 2021 and states: “Members and guests must wear a face mask that covers their mouth and nose at all times. Individuals who are unable to wear a face mask due to a medical condition must wear a face shield.”
DR Delicacy, 4120 Directors Row: Known for high-quality, gourmet ingredients such as truffles, caviar, and chef-designed meal kits, DR Delicacy is requiring masks until at least the end of March, according to owner Diane Roederer. The policy will be revisited at that time.
Fiesta Mart, multiple locations: KHOU reports that this longtime Houston favorite is continuing its current policy of requiring anyone in its stores to wear a mask. In addition, there are social distancing markers throughout the store, including at the checkout counters. The policy also states that it’s limiting the number of customers allowed in the stores at one time.
Food Town, multiple locations: Food Town is currently following CDC recommendations and is requiring guests and employees to wear masks. Social distancing signage is in place, and employees who don’t feel well are encouraged to stay home. “Those who aren’t comfortable working during the COVID-19 virus are encouraged to remain home,” reads the online policy. “Their future employment with our company will not be affected by decisions made to protect their health and look after their families.”
Freedmen’s Town Farmers Market, 1320 Robin: This market located in Freedmen’s Town, which was founded just west of downtown in 1865 by formerly enslaved African Americans, is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is continuing to require vendors and customers to wear proper face coverings.
H Mart, multiple locations: This popular Korean-American supermarket’s corporate policy states: “We recommend (and require, if ordered by the state or local authorities) all customers and visitors to wear masks or face coverings before entering the store. […] All store associates are provided and required to wear masks and gloves.” There are three H-Mart locations in the Greater Houston area: on Blalock, Bellaire Boulevard and in Katy.
H-E-B, multiple locations: Shortly after Abbott’s announcement, H-E-B said they would “strongly urge” customers to wear masks. Since then, this Texas favorite has changed course and is requiring customers as well as staff to wear proper face coverings.
Heights Mercantile Farmers Market, 714 Yale: On the second and fourth Sunday of every month, this outdoor market offers locally grown produce and meat as well as artisan products. To peruse the goods, be sure to bring your mask. It’s required.
Henderson & Kane, 715 Henderson: This Sixth Ward general store offers not only mighty good barbecue but also a large selection of groceries made locally as well as in other parts of Texas, including Papalo Mercado heirloom corn tortillas and Mill-King milk and butter. When visiting, be sure to wear a proper face covering. In a message, the owners stated, “Our policy will remain the same. All guests and employees will be required to wear a mask.”
Hong Kong Food Market, multiple locations: With three locations, this popular grocery store has long been a go-to for Houstonians looking for quality east Asian ingredients. Per its Facebook page, masks and social distancing are required.
Houston Dairymaids, 2201 Airline: Per an email, Houston’s premier cheese shop confirmed that “Customers and employees will still be required to wear a mask inside the store.” So mask up before trying one of the many excellent Texas cheeses they stock.
The Houston Farmers Market, 2520 Airline: Though the market that was once referred to as Canino’s is undergoing major renovations, it is open for business. A statement says, “We strongly encourage all visitors and vendors at the Houston Farmers Market to wear a mask and take the appropriate precautions to keep themselves and the community safe.”
Keemat Grocers, multiple locations: This Indian grocer has locations in Houston, Katy and Sugar Land. Per a Facebook post, it still requires customers and employees to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash hands frequently.
Local Foods Market, 2424 Dunstan: Located in the former Benjy’s, this extension of the Local Foods in Rice Village includes a specialty grocery store. As reported by the Houston Chronicle, Local Foods continues to follow its current safety protocols, such as requiring guests and employees to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.
Memorial Villages Farmers Market, 10840 Beinhorn: This west-side market, which takes place every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., offers locally grown produce and meat, as well locally made artisanal products. Per a statement provided by the market managers: “As the host of the market, First Congregational Church has mandated that [visitors to] the property remain masked. We ask that customers continue to wear masks at the market in order to keep the market open for the sake of our vendors, customers, and community. We have masks available for customers at the entrance to the market for those customers who have forgotten theirs.”
Mi Tienda, multiple locations: As a member of the H-E-B corporate family, this Latino-focused grocery chain continues requiring customers and guests to wear proper face coverings.
Phoenicia Specialty Foods, multiple locations: Founded by Lebanese immigrants, this beloved establishment carries products from over 50 countries. Despite the changes in the state’s policy, it will continue to follow its current safety protocols, which include requiring masks, practicing social distancing and limiting capacity.
Randalls, multiple locations: This longtime Houston grocery chain, which is now owned by Albertsons, is still requiring that customers and employees wear masks. “Although the State mandate will be lifted effective March 10, 2021, our front-line associates have not had full access to the vaccine. Subsequently, our stores and facilities in Texas will continue to require masks for associates, vendors, and customers regardless of the mask mandate being lifted,” reads a statement provided to KHOU 11.
Revival Market, 550 Heights: About to celebrate its 10th anniversary, this Heights staple has evolved to become more café than market. However, its craft butcher shop still offers a selection of locally produced meats and charcuterie — and the store still requires patrons to mask up.
Sam’s Club, multiple locations: As of July 20, 2020, Sam’s Club has required that customers and employees wear masks and hasn’t made specific changes to its policy for its Texas locations.
Target, multiple locations: Many of this national retailer’s stores have extensive grocery departments. Even in Texas, employees and customers must continue to follow the corporation’s national policies, which includes wearing masks.
Trader Joe’s, multiple locations: On March 5th, 2021, shortly after Abbott announced he was rescinding COVID-19 protocols, this national chain with a cult-like following reposted its corporate-wide safety protocols. These include mask requirements for staff and customers. No exceptions were made for Texas locations.
Urban Harvest Farmers Market, two locations: One of Houston’s premier shopping destinations for locally grown produce and meats and locally made products, this farmers markets will continue to require vendors and customers to wear proper face coverings at both of its Saturday locations: Saturday Farmers Market, 2752 Buffalo Speedway, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Saturday and Northeast Community Farmers Market, 5425 Troost, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. every first and third Saturday of the month.
Walmart, multiple locations: As of February 21, 2021, Walmart’s corporate policy still required shoppers to wear face coverings. Multiple news outlets have reported that Walmart has not issued separate guidelines for Texas stores.
Updated: March 10, 10:53 a.m. added Airline Seafood.