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Gallatin County health officials warned two businesses last week for not enforcing a face-covering mandate and not having required signs for face coverings. One business reportedly had a sign that read “This is America, no masks required.”

The Gallatin City-County Health Department sent warning letters to The Korner Klub, dated Sept. 17, and Black Sheep Custom Leather, dated Sept. 15, notifying the businesses they were violating an emergency health rule.

Copies of the letters, signed by Health Officer Matt Kelley, were provided to the Chronicle on Friday. Business owners were given seven “calendar days” to respond with a written plan to correct the violations, schedule an onsite inspection and confirm the business is in compliance.

Regulations ordered by both Gov. Steve Bullock and the Gallatin County Health Board mandate that businesses require employees and customers to wear face coverings while inside businesses. Businesses are also supposed to have signs at their entrances that say face coverings are required.

Kelley said in an email that he had not received a response from the businesses as of Friday morning. He said the letters are one way the health department is working to help businesses comply with the local health rule, and start communication and education.

Failure to take corrective actions, the warning letters said, could result in formal enforcement, which may include civil litigation or criminal prosecution, against a business owner, its employees or the business.

The health department received four complaints starting in July about a sign outside Black Sheep Customer Leather that read “This is America, no masks required,” according to the warning letter. The sign had a “clown face” illustration on it.

The business also lacked signs reminding customers and the public that they are required to wear a face covering while inside the business, the letter said.

Brian Esslinger, owner of the leather shop, said his sign gives people the choice to wear a mask inside the business and that it reads “No masks are required in this shop. America!” He confirmed the sign had a smiley clown face illustration.

He said his options are “tuck tail” and do what the county tells him or spend thousands of dollars, hire a lawyer and “going that route.”

“I’m just trying to give an American a choice,” Esslinger said. “I thought that’s what we stood for.”

He said sending a letter “rubbed me wrong” and that he would have preferred health officials going to the store and talking to him about the issue. Esslinger said he feels like his hands are tied and is frustrated with the situation.

“Being an American, I don’t like being forced into doing things,” he said. “And I feel like I’m being forced into this.”

In the letter to the Korner Klub, the health department said it received three separate complaints starting in July about employees and customers not wearing face coverings.

While waiting for food, one complainant reported, six people entered the restaurant without masks, and no employee tried to enforce the mandate. Other complainants reported employees and customers were not wearing masks inside.

A health official went to the restaurant and saw customers and employees standing and walking around inside without face coverings. No attempts were made to enforce the mask mandate, the letter said. There were no signs telling people they are required to wear face coverings, according to the letter.

The Korner Klub did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.