Mackenthuns social distancing.jpg

Practicing social distancing at Mackenthun’s Fine Foods, which like other grocers and essential businesses has remained opened through the pandemic (Al Lohman/The Patriot)

Last Wednesday evening, Gov. Tim Walz shared a message with Minnesotans that he would allow the state’s stay-at-home order to expire and that retail stores would be able to re-open on May 18.

Now what?

That’s what many small businesses are asking as they start to reopen.

Last Thursday, May 14, the Waconia Chamber of Commerce hosted a question and answer session for local retailers and other businesses with Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, to sort through a myriad of questions.

A week earlier, the Chamber held an online virtual “Coffee Connect” with Attorney Kelly Dohm, partner with local law firm Melchert, Hubert, Sjodin, to discuss the legal issues around bringing employees back to work.

Local Chambers of Commerce and the state parent organization have been trying to provide guidance and resources to help business navigate through the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, notes Waconia Chamber President Kellie Sites.

That includes everything from the CARES Act – when do businesses need to repay a stimulus/relief loan and under what conditions does a loan become forgiven – to reopening strategies, guidelines and safety plans.

Sites notes that a considerable number of businesses, those deemed essential, have been open throughout the pandemic, and that remaining businesses are capable and want to re-open.

But there are lots of questions. Like: How many people can I have in my store? How can I ensure and enforce social distancing? What doesn’t my safety plan look like? With a clothing store, for example, there are considerations about how to handle merchandise, like clothing that has been tried on. Should it be steam-cleaned or can it be isolated for 24 hours?

While businesses have considerable responsibilities, it’s also on customers to practice safe behaviors, Sites notes.

It’s about balance, she said. Making sure customers and business employees have a comfort level.

While the current situation can be nebulous, Sites emphasizes the standards that have been in place throughout “Stay Home MN” and now “Stay Safe MN” orders still pertain: Wash your hands often, avoid close contact (social distance), cover your coughs and sneezes, cover your mouth and nose with a face cover when you must go out in public, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and stay home if you are sick.

Another business faction – bars, restaurants, salons, and gyms – should be able to reopen on June 1 with certain restrictions in place that are expected to be announced by this Wednesday, which could generate another battery of questions.

Curbside service, delivery and takeout have been a bit of lifeline for some dinging and drinking establishments. Think of the Bee Gees song “Staying Alive,” Sites said. While curbside sales are generating just a fraction of revenues, they have helped many restaurants stay in business since shutdown orders were issued back in March.

For a list of local restaurants offering curbside/takeout, go to the Chamber website under “Keeping Waconia strong together.”

In terms of local retail events, the Sister Saturday shopping, dining and entertainment event, typically held in May on the fishing opener, has been postponed until the second Saturday after the bars and restaurants can be open to the public, according to Sites.

Meanwhile, organizers will hold off on a decision about Nickle Dickle Day until after July 4th as decisions are made about other large gatherings like the State Fair. It’s Waconia’s mini-version of the annual event traditionally held in September.

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