Crystal Lake Health Foods will be first business to come to court for COVID-19 violations

Crystal Lake Health Food Store now is the first business in McHenry County to be issued a notice to appear in court for violating the state’s COVID-19 rules on the use of face masks.

The health food store, which has been a part of the Crystal Lake community since 1971, was not aware that the notice to appear was issued Monday as they had not yet received it in the mail as of Wednesday evening, store manager Dave Childress said.

“We welcome all in our store and we are especially mindful of personal and medical freedoms,” Childress said. “We allow our employees and customers to make their own decisions regarding health.”

“Our store has always offered, and will continue to offer, curbside, home and mail-order deliveries to all our customers who are unable to or do not wish to come in to the store,” he said.

While the McHenry County state's attorney office has said they feel they cannot enforce the governor's indoor dining ban, Civil Division Chief Norm Vinton said Wednesday the health food store will come to court for their refusal to wear face masks, a rule which has more clear enforcement guidelines.

“The [McHenry County] health department, they don’t want to cite businesses like this,” Vinton said. “They really want compliance. ... This is the last resort.”

In a special meeting of the McHenry County Board of Health on Monday, Environmental Health Director Patricia Nomm said her inspectors try to take an education-forward approach when responding to COVID-19 complaints against businesses.

An administrative rule approved by an Illinois General Assembly committee in August requires health authorities to give multiple written notices to businesses that are violating the state's rules on masking or social distancing.

If a business still refuses to comply, they are issued a notice to appear in court and can be charged with a class A misdemeanor and a fine ranging from $75 to $2,500.

Crystal Lake Health Foods was the first business to be issued a notice to appear, but Nomm said Monday that the department is in the process of serving notices to appear to several other businesses “in the near future.”

The health food store will make their first court appearance Jan. 7 at the McHenry County courthouse, when they will either plead guilty or not guilty to the misdemeanor charge.

Childress did not comment Wednesday as to how they would proceed and declined to comment on the matter beyond his initial statement.

Vinton said he believes the store will plead not guilty given their refusal to work with the McHenry County Department of Health on the issue of requiring employees and customers to wear face masks while inside the store. A not guilty plea would take the case to a trial, the first of its kind in McHenry County.

“If you go to trial and it’s clear you didn’t have a defense, a judge will sometimes enter the fine on the higher end of the range,” Vinton said.

The McHenry County health department typically is successful in working with businesses to get them to comply with safety restrictions and understands the stress they are under, he said.

“They’re in a no-win situation because you have some people out there that are out there, ‘Like leave us alone, let us do whatever we want to do,’ I’m talking citizens, and then you have another segment of the population that’s like ‘Shut it down. Nobody should be going out. You have to enforce this,’ ” Vinton said.

The McHenry County health department has received a total of 633 COVID-19-related complaints against businesses since the start of the pandemic and currently is receiving an average of three to five complaints each day, Nomm said Monday.

Kelli Duncan

Kelli Duncan is a reporter for the Northwest Herald covering county government as well as the communities of Huntley, Lake in the Hills, Marengo and Harvard. She has previously covered local politics, immigration and feature stories.