The Minnesota Ready coalition ­— a group of nearly 60 business organizations throughout Minnesota — asked Governor Tim Walz in a letter June 11 to allow all Minnesota’s businesses to fully open by June 19.

The Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce held an event June 11 to voice the concerns of the local business community about reopening and the affects the shutdown has had for small businesses.

“Small businesses fuel our state’s economic future,” said Robin Anthony, Executive Director of the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce. “The St. Croix Valley sits on the border with Wisconsin. Without decisive action, tourism and small businesses will suffer or be lost forever. This is a loss to thousands of workers, their families and their communities.”

The impact on small business has been undeniable since the onset of COVID-19. April employment statistics released by DEED show that compared to the same month last year, employment was down 73% in full-service restaurants, 63% in personal and laundry services, and 61% in arts, recreation and entertainment. Small Business Administration statistics reveal that these industries have among the highest shares of small business employment in Minnesota’s economy.

“Wisconsin has been open for week and we want to be open too,” Anthony said June 11.

The chamber event was held at Lift Bridge Brewing Company in Stillwater. Brad Glynn, one of the co-owners of the brewery, said that their business has had to remake their financial forecasts several times in the past months as a result of restrictions on bars and restaurants. While the brewery is selling beer from its Stillwater tap room and in liquor stores, the bars and restaurants that sell their product have suffered.

“We see our business go up and down with their business,” Glynn said.

When bars were allowed to have outdoor seating, Glynn said they invested $5,000 in seating and have increased cleaning training with returning staff.

“We are ready when they say go,” Glynn said. “We are ready for that next step.”

Chuck Dougherty, owner of the Water Street Inn, just finished a $6 million expansion of his Stillwater hotel and restaurant. When his new rooftop patio bar was allowed to open, he said they planned to open seven days a week. However, he decided to cut back to five days a week due to staffing and the need to give staff a rest.

“It’s about finding people to come in to work,” Dougherty said.

Much of his business and many other Stillwater businesses rely on the summer wedding season on weekends. With the COVID-19 restrictions, many couples have postponed or canceled those events.

Judd Sather, a local photographer and the owner of the JX Event Center in Stillwater, said his business has been hit hard by people postponing or canceling wedding and fundraising events.

“We have had 23 events cancel and we have some that are just waiting,” Sather said. “Everyone has a vulnerable person in their life that they are concerned about. People want to feel safe.”

When asked how his business is doing financially, Sather said it is a difficult question.

“Taxes are still due,” Sather said. “It’s week to week, it’s significant.”

Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel said the county is taking steps to lessen the impact of taxes for businesses, but warned that this is a difficult time for business owners.

“This is a frightening time,” Kriesel said. “Small businesses are on life support right now. There is real pain out there.”

When tasked with customer safety, Kriesel said that he believes businesses are going to respond best to those safety needs.

“Everyone is aware of the virus,” Kriesel said. “I don’t know anyone who is going to respond better than businesses.”

Glynn agreed by saying that customer confidence is going to determine whether or not they patronize a business: “We are going to be judged by that.”

Contact Alicia Lebens at alicia.lebens@ecm-inc.com

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