The extension of Minnesota’s stay-at-home order was not what Great Clips co-owner Brian Stevens wanted to hear on Thursday.
Stevens had worked with other salon owners to reach out to Gov. Tim Walz’s office to make their case for reopening salons and with the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology to come up with ideas on an industry plan.
“Every day [the order] goes on, it becomes less viable to open these salons,” Stevens said.
The extension — which will last at least another two weeks — came with more flexibility to open certain businesses with limited services that Walz’s office says could put up to 30,000 people back to work.
But it left many business owners in industries from hair salons to restaurants and fitness centers with more questions. They want to know when they can fully open and what they need to do before that date.
“He didn’t tell me what are the health guidelines, or the conditions under which we could open on the 18th, or what would prevent us from opening,” said Mike Mulrooney, owner of Blarney Pub & Grill in Dinkytown and downtown Minneapolis’ Pog Mahone’s.
“I get that he doesn’t want a hard date out there. But we need that,” he said. “It takes about a week to order food and supplies, and our distributors will need to know.”
With Blarney shuttered and Pog Mahone’s offering only takeout, Mulrooney laid off all but two of his 69 workers in March.
Stevens, who operates 25 salons in the Twin Cities area, is still paying $80,000 a month in rent in addition to business loans and health benefits for his staff.
“It’s amazing how many costs you have even when your business is closed,” Stevens said.
The state’s largest business groups called the easing of restrictions a good step, but emphasized the need for more action.
“Businesses throughout the state are preparing to fully return to work and taking steps to do so responsibly and expeditiously,” said Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon in a statement. “We urge the governor to continue to recognize that businesses can — and have — designed plans for safe work environments and allow more businesses to return to work soon.”
The growing unease with business restrictions prompted members of the Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition this week to file a lawsuit asking the Minnesota Court of Appeals to strike down the orders on the grounds that they are unconstitutional.
Kay Frandsen, owner of Wabi Sabi Shop furniture consignment store in Wayzata, was also disappointed with continued uncertainty.
“I’d like to know if I can start letting my customers know that I will be open on May 18, but will the governor come back on May 14 and say there is further delay?”
As for selling items online for pickup and delivery, none of her employees have yet told her they’re willing to return to work. “If a customer wants to pick up a chest of drawers or a bureau, I can’t move that by myself.”
For some, Thursday brought good news.
Ralph Bernstein, owner of Dog’s Day Out Grooming in Minneapolis, was surprised to learn he’ll be able to partially reopen his business. Now, all he needs is for some equipment to be delivered.
“I’ve gone from hurry up and wait to just hurry up,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have.”
Hell’s Kitchen co-owner Cynthia Gerdes said she supports the decision to keep restaurants closed to dining customers, but she’s uneasy about meeting the terms of her forgivable emergency small business loan.
“In order to have the money forgiven and not count as a loan, we’re forced to use 75% of the loan amount for payroll within eight weeks from the day the funds dropped into our bank account, but we might not even be open by then,” she said.
If she falls short, she’s concerned she’ll be unable to repay.
“There’s no way we’ll be back to 80 to 100% of the same amount of business we had before we closed,” she said.
Jim Lien, marketing director of Hirshfield’s Paints, said the governor’s revised order won’t change how the home-improvement retailer operates.
Hirshfield’s Minneapolis paint factory and its 33 paint, decorating and hardware stores are deemed an “essential business” and could fully open.
But it won’t.
“We could have been open all along but we chose, for the safety of everyone, just to go to curbside/pick up service. Our customers have been just fine with it,” Lien said.
Dan O’Neill, co-owner of the Laundry Doctor Lockers and Home Delivery on Selby Avenue in St. Paul, said his dry cleaning service has already been primarily virtual for the last three weeks.
In addition to allowing drop-offs and deliveries at its main location, the Laundry Doctor has more than 500 pickup and drop-off lockers in offices, apartments and campuses across the metro.
“This order doesn’t really change anything,” said O’Neill, who estimated business has been down about 75% since the stay-at-home order because many people don’t need work clothes cleaned.
“Businesses that have judiciously chosen to open are policing themselves,” he said. “Already businesses are figuring out the smart thing to do so that customers can be served safely.”
Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, said the state has 69,000 retailers, and the order announced Thursday will allow 10,000 to 15,000 of them to reopen starting Monday.
For hair salons like those operated by Stevens, that amounts to selling hair products, a relatively modest revenue prospect.
As for actually cutting hair again, they have to be satisfied with Walz’s hint Thursday that it could be possible for some of the state’s milestones, such as high-contact businesses being allowed to reopen to clients, to happen before May 18.
“It’s our desire,” Walz said, “to open up as much as we possibly can.”
Staff writers John Ewoldt, Dee DePass, Neal St. Anthony, and Joe Carlson contributed to this report.