RF Moeller - reopening

R.F. Moeller Jeweler, located at 50th & France in Edina, was open May 18, the first day “non-essential” businesses were allowed to again welcome customers into their spaces. (Sun Current staff photo by Andrew Wig)

With Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order over, businesses in Edina are taking varied approaches to re-opening their doors.

After Walz announced May 13 that the order would expire the following Monday, some shops in Edina were preparing to re-open as soon as they were legally allowed, while others planned to take a week to reschedule staff, re-order products and test new in-store safety protocols, according to Bill Neuendorf, the city of Edina’s economic development manager.

Retailers who announced Monday re-openings – with safety plans in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – included the Galleria, Southdale Center and several smaller independent shops.

“We certainly know that a lot of businesses want to reopen are ready to reopen,” Neuendorf said.

Meanwhile, businesses such as restaurants and fitness centers were awaiting June 1, when those types of proprietors were expected to be allowed back open in a limited capacity.

Ashok Dhariwal, owner of YogaFit Studios at 45th Street and France Avenue, was planning on a “slow re-opening” beginning in June. The re-awakening of the yoga studio will come with reduced capacity – Dhariwal expects that a class with 40 participants under normal conditions will proceed with only 10.

To bide his time during the stay-at-home order, Dhariwal had been offering online classes. “A lot of our members transitioned pretty easily into doing it from home,” he said.

Many of them wouldn’t have been able to make it to their normal in-person classes anyway, with kids at home during the school day taking part in distance learning.

The return of customers and staff

At public-facing businesses in general, it remains to be seen how potential customers will feel about venturing into establishments. “Just because they open doesn’t mean the customers are going to be there,” Neuendorf warned.

He pointed out that many consumers, seeing the scale of the pandemic, were already avoiding shared spaces before the stay-at-home order took effect in March.

The uncertainty of customers’ return extends to restaurants, too. “I really have no idea if customers will come back for dining or not,” said Jinsong Liu, owner of Nakamori Japanese Bistro, which, located at 70th Street and France Avenue, has been operating on a take-out-only basis since restrictions went into effect.

Another concern for business owners is whether furloughed employees will return. “I really have no idea if customers will come back for dining or not,” Liu said.

Restaurants, which already operate on thin margins typically, will be required to limit capacity. To make up for the caps, Neuendorf envisions restaurants emphasizing staggered dining times in an effort to bring in customers before and after prime hours.

The city also plans to make accommodations to allow for more outdoor space for customers, he added. According to Neuendorf, such measures could include removing street parking to make way for tables, or even temporarily closing down entire sections of streets to create more dining space.

But businesses have another chore to tackle before they can welcome customers back. “We have to make sure we have enough employees coming into work,” Liu explained, saying it’s been a struggle convincing his wait staff to return.

In the short term, people in low-wage jobs are making more money by staying at home as they collect $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits, on top of their state benefits. When staff are offered “suitable employment,” the unemployment benefit is supposed to be cut off, but that depends on the employer or employee reporting the offer to come back to work.

Dhariwal, who also owns yoga studios in northeast Minneapolis and the Linden Hills neighborhood, observed that employers can have their own motivations not to pressure employees to return. The goal for some, he said, is to maintain amiable relationships with employees so that they might return once he $600 federal benefit ends Aug. 1.

Elective surgeries return

Characterizing the gradual nature of the commercial re-awakening, the state’s ban of elective surgeries was lifted one week before the stay-at-home order expired. That announcement was eagerly awaited in Edina, which on top of being a regional retail destination, is also known for its prominent medical sector.

“We’re one of the top medical communities in Minnesota, for sure,” said Rep. Heather Edelson (D-Edina), who worked with the governor’s office and medical community as the easing of restrictions was discussed.

Edelson noted that just because a surgery is “elective” doesn’t mean it’s not important. “There was a lot of confusion about what was elective and what was not,” she said.

The restriction on elective surgery could have meant that an operation addressing hip pain, for instance, could be delayed, causing dangerous knock-on effects. “Opioids were being prescribed for longer periods of time,” Edelson said, pointing to one example of such risk.

People were also voluntarily staying away from medical facilities out of concern they would be overrun by COVID-19, she added. Edelson said she spoke with four ER doctors from four different hospitals: “They were like, ‘No, we’re not busy.’”

She was confident that medical facilities could implement responsible safety protocols. “If they say that they can open and practice safely, I think we should trust them. They’re doctors,” Edelson said.

The caveat with all discussions regarding COVID-19, however, is that circumstances can change rapidly.

“Literally every time I talk to the business leadership,” Neuendorf said, “things change day-by-day, hour-by-hour.”

– Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

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