Whether it was a run on the treadmill at a neighborhood gym or a quick lunch inside a favorite eatery, Minnesotans took another step in the slow journey back to normalcy Wednesday as some coronavirus-related restrictions were lifted to allow more businesses to open.
Fitness fanatic Sam Zabel of St. Paul was relieved he could do some weight training at his regular Anytime Fitness gym in Oakdale on Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s more me getting back to my routine, getting back to my normal,” he said. “It is definitely a mental health thing as much as a physical thing.”
Before the stay-at-home orders — put in place to help slow the spread of COVID-19 — Zabel worked out at a gym five to seven times a week. The past few months he has been participating in virtual exercise sessions, but nothing beats the real thing, he said.
Anytime Fitness management had spaced out equipment, including blocking off every other treadmill to adhere to social distancing standards, and Zabel said he felt safer there than at a grocery store.
On Wednesday, swimming pools, movie theaters, fitness centers, bowling alleys and other venues could resume business with restrictions. Restaurants could open their indoor dining rooms after being able to serve food on their patios since June 1.
Churches, hair salons and indoor bars and restaurants were allowed to serve up to 50% of their capacities, while gyms, bowling alleys and movie theaters could serve 25% of their capacities as they reopened for the first time in months.
Wednesday was a big day for Nathan Jespersen. Not only was he able to open his five Anytime Fitness locations, he also was able to open the inside of his ax-throwing bar in Stillwater.
“That’s a big deal for us,” Jespersen said.
At the Life Time fitness facility at the Southdale Center in Edina, the stream of members was steady.
“Why you come to Life Time is because of the collective experience you have with these people,” said Life Time founder Bahram Akradi, who showcased the Edina facility on Wednesday to state officials including Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove.
While many business owners were happy to more fully open their doors, the milestone came with costs.
Brian Ingram, owner of the Hope Breakfast Bar in St. Paul, said he invested tens of thousands of dollars in plexiglass partitions and other safety initiatives that he oversaw while working the griddle.
“It’s almost like opening a new restaurant. There’s new staff, new steps of service, we changed the menu,” Ingram said.
For one Minneapolis spot, Wednesday was more of a grand opening than a reopening. Mill Valley Market, a fast-casual counter inside the Theodore Wirth Trailhead, was supposed to open in March, just as the coronavirus put Minnesota on lockdown.
Owner Mike Rakun had to push the opening back to last week when patio service was first permitted. On Wednesday, strong winds prompted patio diners to move into the trailhead’s immense hall for the first time.
“We are trailblazers at the trailhead,” joked Greg Downer, who was one of the first guests to occupy a table for lunch.
He and Carol Kratzer wore their masks when ordering at the counter, then removed the face coverings when they settled into their seats. “A lot of space in here gives you a comfort level,” said Downer, of Golden Valley.
Not every business that could open actually welcomed customers Wednesday. Movie theaters that responded to Star Tribune inquiries said they would not open until later.
Managers of the Plaza Theater in Maplewood confirmed via social media that the theater wouldn’t open for several weeks.
“There are a lot of changes that need to be made and it takes time to get all the staff up to speed,” it said via Facebook.
New Vision Theatres, which has a theater in Mounds View, responded on social media that it anticipated opening in July based on when studios begin releasing new movies.
The other New Vision in Oakdale was recently put up for sale through Dallas-based developer Anthony Properties, and it would also consider leasing the 20-screen space to another movie operator, said spokesman Justin Todd. New Vision’s lease had expired at the end of April.
“Right now we are in limbo,” Todd said. “It depends on how the theater business bounces back from COVID.”
For many customers who ventured out to newly opened businesses Wednesday, the experience was worthwhile.
Kelly Lukanen of Eden Prairie was glad to be back at the Life Time Edina center Wednesday so she could begin to work with her trainer and cardio coach again on her weight-loss program. She said, “It’s good to be back.”
Staff writer Jeremy Olson contributed to this report.