Miss the gym? In rural Plainview, a commercial fitness center reopened to visitors as of May 1, despite a statewide executive order to the contrary.
“There was no funding for small businesses, with all these economic relief loans,” said Plainview Wellness Center owner Brandon Reiter, who applied for federal Payment Protection Program help without success. “I had no choice, financially, to make this go.”
Need a new vase, or maybe an old one? After witnessing crowds of customers frequenting big box stores near her home, the proprietor of a furniture and home decor shop in Cambridge, is opening its doors Friday through Sunday in open defiance of the governor’s stay-at-home orders. Customers can also shop outside.
“I have not received a dime of this money I was supposed to be getting for unemployment, and I filed six weeks ago,” said Mary Andersen, owner of The Vintage Pixie, fighting back tears. “I’m not trying to be defiant. I have to feed my family. And I will be safer than Walmart or Menards.”
Across Minnesota, some desperate small retailers that had readied to reopen May 4 have thrown open their doors for at least limited hours anyway and are back in action, despite statewide executive orders to remain closed for all but curbside pickup and delivery.
Some businesses barely shuttered, or have encouraged curbside pickup even before the state allowed it for small retailers. Shared through social media, a website dubbed “Minnesota Pacesetters” lists 17 “courageous businesses that are now responsibly open or will be opening soon.” Among those businesses is Alternative Health Specialties north of Hutchinson, which provides massage and holistic therapy treatments. Stephanie Kadelbach, the owner of the business, declined to comment.
CHURCHES, BUSINESSES FILE LAWSUIT
On Wednesday, the Upper Midwest Law Center announced it had filed suit against the Walz administration in federal court on behalf of multiple Minnesota churches and small business owners. The suit calls the governor’s shutdown orders unconstitutional.
Plaintiffs include the Northland Baptist Church of St. Paul, the Living Word Christian Center of Brooklyn Park, Glow In One Mini Golf of Blaine, and Myron’s Cards and Gifts of Roseville, Blaine, Bloomington and other locations.
A previous lawsuit against the Walz administration was filed by the “Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition.”
Elsewhere, authorities have begun to take notice.
In St. Joseph, the BabyGirlz woman’s clothing boutique announced on Facebook that it plans to be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Thursday through Saturday. When it opened last week, an officer with the St. Joseph’s Police Department was sent to shut it down.
Proprietor Melissa Kolstad said she respectfully complied at the time, but come this weekend, anyone who wants to step in her store and try on clothes is welcome to.
Gov. Tim Walz last Thursday announced he would extend store closures that took effect in late March to May 18, two weeks later than previously planned, in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and buy more time for hospitals to acquire potentially life-saving supplies.
New statewide projections are expected this week from the University of Minnesota, but some national models predict as many as 3,000 COVID-19 deaths per day across the country by June 1.
Walz said many Minnesotans have voluntarily embraced the spirit of social distancing for the greater good. Still, he said, it’s tough to explain the benefit of business closures to those who have not been infected, in the same vein as it’s tough to explain beach closures to everyone who hasn’t drowned.
“I think most of us know, regardless if it’s speeding laws or moving up to other things, social compliance is the idea that (our) actions don’t only impact ourselves, they impact others,” Walz said at a news conference this week.
The governor acknowledged that some business owners may go to great lengths to keep clients and workers safe, even beyond what’s expected of them, but the state wasn’t yet ready to turn the dial to “open.”
“In every society, you’ve got to have an orderly way to do this,” Walz said Tuesday.
Many business owners say they’re not blind to those concerns, but they’re confident they can open the doors to their retail shops to a few customers at a time while maintaining sensible safety protocols.
And they call it unfair that many big box retailers have been allowed to serve dozens of customers at a time while they’re shuttered from serving even a single one.
Not all of the business owners qualify for unemployment, Kolstad said, or have received small business assistance from the federal government. “I am not wearing a mask, but (my customers) can wear a mask if they so choose. I’m steaming clothes. I’m wiping down the entire dressing room after each use.”
INDUSTRY LEADERS URGE CAUTION, COMPLIANCE, PLANNING
In St. Paul, a barber who reopened his University Avenue shop Monday in defiance of the governor’s orders wore a thick face mask and switched from cloth to vinyl customer aprons that won’t absorb moisture and virus-carrying droplets. Milan Dennie said at the time he was playing it safer than many other barbers who are now making clandestine house calls.
The decision to begin serving customers anew, however, put him at odds with official guidance from industry leaders, and with the state.
On Tuesday morning, an officer with the St. Paul Police Department asked him to close. The department has not issued any formal citations to store owners.
“He said there wouldn’t be any repercussions if I closed so I asked if I could finish my next customer first and he said yes,” said Dennie.
Dennie was scheduled Wednesday afternoon to speak to Walz and the Minnesota Board of Barber Examiners through Skype, an online platform.
‘SAFETY FIRST’ APPROACH
Damon Dorsey, president of the American Barber Association, said he’s encouraging barbers to follow local guidance on reopening.
“Some barbers have gotten the virus and some have died,” Dorsey said. “We strongly support a ‘safety first’ approach to reopening.”
Given the economics of their situation, health concerns, access to personal protective equipment, logistics and other factors, some shops and restaurants that are allowed to offer curbside service have chosen not to.
Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, said last week he worked with the Walz administration prior to the extension of stay-at-home orders.
Reiter, the proprietor of the Plainview Wellness Center, said he’s already received a cease-and-desist style letter from local law enforcement, with information forwarded by the county attorney’s office indicating his business could be fined $1,000 per day for reopening.
He respects the intent. But he was open all weekend and plans to remain so, with extra safety and sanitation protocols in place.