Several Minnesota-based furniture stores have opened their doors after being given the OK by the state.
HOM Furniture and Slumberland, as well as Sleep Number, Ashley, Mattress Firm and some mom-and-pop stores have opened select locations for the first time in over a month since the outbreak of COVID-19.
CEOs from retailers such as HOM and Slumberland said they asked the governor's office for clarification on whether they would be considered "essential" businesses. The state responded that they could open if they sell products such as mattresses, lift chairs and office furniture that can be considered part of the essential operation of a home.
All are limiting the number of customers in the store, many using appointment-only service.
Minneapolis-based Sleep Number was one of the first home-furnishings stores to reopen after receiving guidance from the state on March 27.
Forty-four of more than 600 stores, including nonmall stores in Minnesota, opened last week, said Julie Elepano, spokeswoman for Sleep Number, in an e-mail.
"We're slowly and thoughtfully opening in markets where such action complies with mandates of individual jurisdictions' 'stay at home' orders," she said. Stores have fewer staff members and shorter hours.
Coon Rapids-based HOM, Minnesota's largest furniture company, tested the waters by opening stores April 3 in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Fargo. Neither state has stay-at-home orders.
"What we are seeing in Sioux Falls and Fargo is that customers are shopping our websites, calling our sales lines [a new service feature added because of COVID-19 concerns] and coming into the showrooms and looking at the selections they are interested in and getting business done and moving on," said HOM Chief Executive Rod Johansen in an e-mail.
The company decided that allowing 12,000 square feet per customer was extremely safe. That means about eight customers would be allowed in a 100,000-square-foot store at one time.
Walmart's standard under its COVID-19 restrictions is one customer per 200 square feet, Johansen said. His Minnesota stores added appointments as a way to manage the number of customers in a store at one time.
HOM, Slumberland and Ashley Home Stores worked with the state on how they could safely operate their stores, including what steps, such as social distancing and cleaning procedures, would be taken to protect employees and customers.
HOM is also allowing appointments at its other brands, Dock 86 and the Gabberts in Little Canada.
Oakdale-based Slumberland started opening stores Wednesday. Four Twin Cities stores and four stores in greater Minnesota were open Thursday as the company expands the rollout.
"We had appointments in all stores [Wednesday]," said Chief Executive Ken Larson. "We were pleasantly surprised how quickly they filled up. We're doing an early hour at 10 a.m. for the elderly. If anyone without a mask wants to wear one while they're in the store, we have them."
Room & Board is still working with customers only by phone, e-mail and online chats. The Golden Valley-based company has yet to open any of its more than 15 stores.
"Our position is to monitor the local government mandate and reopen when appropriate with a plan that will keep our staff and customers safe," said Bruce Champeau, the company's president, in an e-mail.
Though it's the mattresses, lift chairs and home office supplies that make furniture stores "essential," customers are still allowed to shop the entire store, just as consumers can buy apparel at Target or Walmart.
Staff writer Patrick Kennedy contributed to this report.