The usual lunch rush was nowhere to be found in downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday.
There were no clusters of workers hustling up and down Nicollet Mall during their breaks. No lines stretching outside the chopped salad and roti joints. No crowds mingling or scarfing down food on the benches at the Crystal Court in the IDS Center, the tallest building in the city. Even the benches were gone.
“I think I saw a tumbleweed run through the court,” joked Zelda Crist, manager at Lokel Minnesota, a gift shop inside the tower. “It’s a bit unnerving.”
Like the rest of the state, the heart of Minnesota’s largest city is shutting down to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Gov. Tim Walz ordered most public spaces to close their doors by 5 p.m. Tuesday; in Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey’s directive was noon.
That was well in effect in the busiest part of the city, where more than 50,000 live and 216,000 normally work. People still strolled the sidewalks and skyways, but the activity was reminiscent of a quiet weekend, not a workday.
Restaurant after restaurant inside the IDS Center and across the skyways had paper signs taped to their windows bearing the same message: “Sorry, we’re closed.” The few that were open closed their eating areas or took orders by the door. Stools and chairs were stacked above tables.
A couple of people sat around the Crystal Court’s fountain, the water splashing down from the ceiling. The banks were open but may close by Wednesday, Crist said, which meant the entire building would likely shut down.
Outside under a blue sky, a group of kids skated and biked by the Government Center light-rail stop, attempting tricks along the plaza’s ledges. “Amazing Grace,” “Happy Birthday” and “Danny Boy” rippled from the bells above City Hall once the clock struck 12.
Classes at Hopkins High School were canceled this week, so the students had come downtown to bike for a few hours. They were headed to the Loring Greenway next.
“Normally people kick us out,” said Gabriel Skowronek, one of the bikers. “Not today.”
While cars drove up and down the streets, the sidewalks were scant with pedestrians. There were more on Nicollet Mall, pushing strollers, walking their dogs and waiting for the bus. The sidewalks on Hennepin Avenue, currently under construction, were mostly bare.
Others continued to work. Buses rolled at a snail’s pace down Nicollet Mall. Police cars and fire trucks flashed their lights on the street. Ambassadors with the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, wearing their blue and green parkas, swept up litter and collected trash from garbage bins.
The Target on Nicollet Mall was one of the few hubs of activity. Shoppers came out with produce, cans and paper towels. They used their sleeves to push revolving doors and covered their hands to press elevator buttons.
Like Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul sidewalks and eateries would be bustling on a sunny, mild Tuesday in March. Instead, restaurant windows were dark. Parking garages were less than half full. Few ambled in public spaces, including Rice Park and the walkways along the Mississippi River.
The Ramsey County District Court violations bureau and court information office Tuesday afternoon, typically aflutter with customers, were largely empty. Clerks quietly chatted with one another, waiting for someone to walk in.
A steady stream of people continued to board the buses and light rail in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. South of the Nicollet Mall Target, the bars and restaurants that would usually be filled were in stasis.
The Local, an Irish pub, had decorations exclaiming “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” out front. One lonely patron, wearing an Ireland sweater, exited the pub before 1 p.m. and said it had closed for the day.
Nicky Garcia showed up minutes later, wearing a green T-shirt and green plastic beads with a four-leaf clover pendant. He pulled on the locked doors, then peered through the windows.
“I’m like, ready to go,” Garcia said. “Where’s everybody at?”
Staff writer Shannon Prather contributed to this report.