Jackson Street in downtown Anoka was full Friday night, June 5, not with cars, but with pedestrians and diners taking advantage of a sunny evening to eat out for the first time in months.
The city had closed off half the street and provided picnic tables to create outdoor dining space for nearby restaurants.
Last weekend was the first weekend restaurants could open for dining service since St. Patrick’s Day under executive orders from Gov. Tim Walz due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 1 the governor loosened restrictions to allow restaurants and bars to offer dining service outdoors. On Wednesday, June 10, they were allowed offer indoor dining at 50% capacity.
Customers didn’t let ongoing concerns about transmission of the novel coronavirus keep them away last weekend.
“I think people just wanted to get out and get back to some sort of resemblance of normal,” Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce President Peter Turok said. He said most of the restaurants he talked to said business was good last week, even though capacity was limited.
“We were pretty busy,” said Jaimie Christianson, one of the managers at Casa Rio on Jackson Street. “Both patios were full.”
“I think everybody wants to come back now,” said Gary Serum, owner of Serum’s Good Time Emporium, also on Jackson Street. “They don’t want any restrictions. ... We were turning people away.”
Serum said he took advantage of the extended closure in recent months to renovate his deck as well as the interior of the building, but he’s ready to be back at full capacity.
He also said some of the government’s policies have been counterproductive. Serum received a small business loan to help him through the pandemic, but he’s had difficulty getting employees to return to work instead of collecting unemployment plus a $600 weekly bonus from the federal government.
“I had to pay them double to get them back, and then some wouldn’t come back,” he said.
Turok has heard the same story from other business owners. He also said many businesses are “not happy at all” with the ongoing limitations from the governor, adding that the chamber is part of a push alongside other chambers to ask for fewer restrictions.
While many restaurants offered outdoor dining beginning June 1, it wasn’t feasible for everyone. Sparky’s Cafe at 12 Bridge Square in Anoka didn’t reopen until indoor dining was allowed June 10.
A few places, like 10K Brewing, however, have fared well during the pandemic. The downtown Anoka brewery was able to adapt quickly to a curbside pickup model back in March, and business has been good. Owner Jesse Hauf said alcohol sales are virtually “recession-proof.”
“The real businesses that suffered during this are the ones that had to close completely,” Hauf said.
Nevertheless, he was excited to offer outdoor seating starting last week and to reopen the taproom June 10. But he’ll still offer curbside pickup for those who prefer to stay away.
“We understand that we’re a risk environment,” he said.
While many people are eager to see restrictions lifted, Walz is still exercising caution as he moves to “carefully turn the dial toward reopening society.”
Minnesota reported 352 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, June 10, and 19 new deaths, including two more deaths in Anoka County. In total Anoka County had seen 1,654 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 87 deaths from the disease as of June 10, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.