While state and local officials across the country have begun enforcing sweeping closures of restaurants, bars and other nonessential retail, in Minnesota businesses haven’t yet been given clear marching orders as COVID-19 cases mount.
Some local businesses are making tough choices on their own.
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce the temporary closure of our school as of Monday, March 16 until further notice,” said Minneapolis Yoga founders Martha and Eric Williams, in a Sunday night e-mail to members of their south Minneapolis studio. “It is clearly the most responsible decision to prevent the spread of this highly contagious Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). It is larger than us and we know that this is the right thing to do.”
Eddie Wu, owner of the Korean-inspired East St. Paul diner Cook St. Paul, said on Facebook he was temporarily closing on Monday “in order for me to properly, clearly, and intelligently make the right adjustments going forward.”
“Over the last few days I have been working on a post about our response to the [COVID-19]pandemic, but I’ve been too busy cooking, prepping, running the business, and taking care of my family in these difficult times to finish the post,” Wu wrote. “Now schools are canceled, and everything is moving at a faster pace.”
While the windows at Cook St. Paul were dark Monday morning, many of the businesses along bustling Payne Avenue in St. Paul still glowed with red neon “open” signs.
“It’s a challenging decision and it also isn’t,” said Alex West Steinman, chief executive of the Coven, a co-working and collaborative space for women that has locations in Minneapolis and a recently opened space in St. Paul, “When you see how to stop the curve of spread it’s by isolation. It makes sense.”
Both Coven locations will temporarily close beginning Tuesday. There can be typically 10 to 50 people at the shared workspaces at a time so after Minnesota officials announced they would close schools and St. Paul declared a state of emergency, Coven co-founders decided their business should shutter as well, said West Steinman.
The company is analyzing how to best support members with services remotely with plans to host events like a virtual happy hour and virtual crowdfunding classes. Coven leaders also have to keep their eyes on the future of the bottom line.
“How do we continue to monetize when the core of our business the physical space is not being used?” West Steinman said.
After saying late last week they planned to remain open, leaders of the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities decided beginning Monday to close their fitness, health and well-being centers, pools and camps. To help members remain healthy, the YMCA has created a series of YouTube videos of workouts for members to try at home.
Around the nation, local officials are encouraging businesses to take action to help stem the spread of COVID-19. The only ways to soon get a deep dish pizza in Chicago will be by order or pick up. In California, the governor on Sunday suggested wineries as part of a list of places that “should close.” In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced restaurants would be limited to takeout and delivery and theaters, nightclubs, and concert venues would close.
On Sunday, Minnesota health officials revealed the first three cases involving people who were infected indirectly through the community without having traveled outside of Minnesota or knowingly been exposed to someone infected. On the same day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that for the next two months, events or gatherings that consist of 50 or more people should be canceled or postponed, a sharp escalation from when the group earlier recommended to postpone large events of 250 or more. The new suggestion would limit the capacity of even small restaurants.
The developments have helped convince a growing list of businesses to rethink plans.
Punch Neapolitan Pizza, which has a dozen shops across the metro, has closed for the time being.
“We feel it’s important to do our part to slow the spread of this disease and allow our health care professionals the time necessary to treat people most at risk,” said Punch co-owners John Soranno and John Puckett, in a message to customers.
Simpls, which has three grab-n-go locations in downtown Minneapolis for sandwiches, soups and other local fare, sent out an e-mail early Monday morning that it would temporary close though it will still offer catering for delivery.
“As a small business, this was not an easy decision, but necessary at this time,” the company said in an e-mail. “We hope that this effort, along with the actions of many others, brings us all back together soon.”
State officials have been hesitant to restrict the general public’s travel to nonessential businesses as of yet but have encouraged social distancing while in public.
“For those of us who are frequenting bars and restaurants, it’s really important to monitor our own behavior to try to achieve social distancing in those places that are open — and we want them to remain open as long as possible — but to do that in a way that is mindful of the importance of social distancing, even in those venues,” said State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, on Sunday.
Gov. Tim Walz, who announced the temporary closing of schools across the state, hinted that restaurant closings could be a measure the state could soon announce.
“That may become an option,” he said, in response to a reporter’s question on Sunday.