Local businesses were already taking precautions
Gov. Tim Walz announced an executive order Monday, March 16, that will require Minnesota restaurants, fitness centers, and places of amusement to close from 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 17, through March 27. The announcement comes two days after Walz announced the closure of all Minnesota schools.
“I want to be very clear. We are at a critical point here,” Walz said during a press conference.
Many local restaurants were already taking extra precautions against the COVID-19 virus in recent days. At Key’s Cafe, condiments and items normally kept on tabletops were instead being brought out by waitstaff for each individual diner as needed.
“Anything we were bringing to the tables was sanitized and cleaned, and we’ve been doing extra cleaning of things that are touched a lot like doors and handles,” manager Alyssa Marx said.
Monique Skamser, who together with husband Gordon owns Forest Lake restaurant and bar Norman Quack’s, said of the statewide closures: “I think they’re making a good decision. It’s a scary thing that’s going on and we need to be good citizens. It’s the right thing to do.”
The executive order will allow restaurants to keep drive-through, take-out, or delivery options for restaurants. Skamser said Norman Quack’s would offer pickup service. Key’s Cafe will also offer pickup service.
In normal times, Big Apple Bagels does a greater percentage of its business in to-go orders than most restaurants, but Jaedyn Thoma, who was leading the evening shift when Walz announced the closure order, said the restaurant will miss its regular dine-in customers.
“We see a lot of regulars sit down for an hour or two with a cup of coffee, a muffin or a bagel, so to see that atmosphere go will be heartbreaking,” Thoma said. “For the safety of everyone, though, it’s OK to see that happen.”
Big Apple Bagels had already adopted a no-plates policy last week to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. BAB will still do to-go orders.
In addition to restaurants and fitness centers, movie theaters, bowling alleys and other places of amusement will be closed throughout the state.
“Understand the magnitude of what we’re doing is not lost on any of us,” Walz said.
Walz assured both employees and employers that there will be financial and logistical support available. The state will be using its unemployment trust fund and removing wait time so benefits are available immediately for employees. For employers, that also means lifting of restrictions and other fees.
“We’re not coming in front of you making a closure without putting the backstops in place,” Walz said. He later said, “This is an opportunity for Minnesotans to do what we do best; we step up in times of crisis for our neighbors. … Minnesota can do this if we step up together.”
For all information regarding unemployment benefits, visit uimn.org.
Nannette LaNasa, executive director of the Forest Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, noted that the first interruption of business-as-usual was always likely to lead to more.
“When you think about the impact of schools closing, students staying home affects all of the people who work for and with the schools,” LaNasa said. “That one decision has a ripple effect.”
Interruptions to normalcy and alterations of plans have become standard practice lately. With many businesses now closed indefinitely and people generally being asked to avoid unnecessary travel and contact with others, the chamber has closed its annual Lakes Area Expo, originally scheduled for March 28.
“[The expo] traditionally is a large group that brings a thousand people to the venue,” LaNasa said.
Since not every business type is impacted by the executive order, there will still be some opportunities to support local businesses and show support to people affected by current events, such as those temporarily out of work or those in vital industries like health care.
“For restaurants, ordering takeout or delivery is an option for them,” LaNasa said. “People can also do things like purchase lunches and have them delivered to people who are not able to go to work. Perhaps people can purchase flowers for delivery, which keeps the florist and the delivery person busy, and perhaps send the flowers to hospital workers – just to keep dollars moving in the community.”
LaNasa also stressed the value of purchasing gift cards for future use or for directed use by those who receive the cards.
“Perhaps the best thing we can offer is grace,” she said. “We’re all making adjustments on a dime, and every single individual is doing the best they can with the information and resources they have. Grace to others, and grace to yourself, is important.”
- John Wagner and Hannah Davis contributed to this report.