Pedicures done, the only thing missing to top off Jane Murray's birthday celebration on Monday with cousin Dawn Kaphingst was a place to grab a bite to eat — and maybe an adult beverage.
Thanks to Gov. Tim Walz's relaxation of his most recent shutdown of restaurants and bars, mission accomplished. The women sat in a sun-drenched booth at Longfellow Grill in south Minneapolis, delighted at the timing and thankful to be able again to meet loved ones somewhere other than home.
"It's very important," Kaphingst said. "Keeping relationships with family and friends. Socializing. Keeping local businesses open. I think for the health of everybody, just being around people."
Bars, restaurants and other venues reopened with restrictions on Monday as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continued to decline in Minnesota. The governor announced the dial-back in the state's pandemic response on Wednesday, noting that bars and restaurants can operate at minimal risk if customers comply with rules that prevent viral transmission.
"The way we help them out is, let's not let the virus surge again. … By wearing a mask and social distancing, that keeps your local bar and restaurant open," Walz said.
Bars and restaurants can resume indoor service at 50% capacity — but with 10 p.m. curfews and no more than six people at a table and two people in a group at the bar. Groups must stay 6 feet apart.
Movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums can reopen at 25% capacity. Most indoor venues must limit the number of people to 150, including fitness clubs, which can offer classes of up to 25 people and operate at 25% capacity as long as workout machines are kept 9 feet apart.
Amateur sports games can resume Thursday with spectators, subject to indoor and outdoor capacity limits. Places of worship still must operate at 50% capacity but with no numerical caps.
Walz ordered bars and restaurants closed during a fall surge of COVID-19 that has since declined in the Upper Midwest even as it radiated to the rest of the country.
Hospitality Minnesota, the industry trade group, had criticized the governor for singling out bars and restaurants and supported the latest move.
"Reopening will bring in much-needed revenue at a desperate time for these businesses," said Liz Rammer, the trade group's chief executive. "We know that operators committed to following the protocols will keep their guests and workers safe."
While happy to be able once again to share a meal in a favorite restaurant, Michelle Biros and her nephew, Scott, said they weren't rushing back into regular indoor dining.
"Until this pandemic is done, everybody, including us, will be more cautious about being safe when [going out]," Michelle said. "You know, I want to support local businesses. But I also want to make sure that everybody is safe during that time."
Traffic was significantly lighter than during a typical Monday lunchtime, said Alex Hipp-Faragher, Longfellow Grill's general manager. Still, he was pleased; months of shutdowns and restrictions have strained the finances and flexibility of restaurants, he said.
Those restaurants that could shift to curbside pickup and use up inventory, while furloughing most of their employees, were more likely to weather months of closure. Those that couldn't are gone.
Longfellow, part of the Blue Plate group of restaurants, has survived. But it has lost 15 to 18 employees who couldn't afford to stay on furlough while waiting to see if the restaurant reopened, he said.
Grace Mathre, a server at Longfellow Grill, has been furloughed twice since the pandemic began. Each time, she had to go on unemployment and was forced to tap her savings just to make rent.
It's better to be working, she said, even at 50% capacity. After her latest furlough, Monday felt a little like the first day of school.
"Today is definitely good," Mathre said. "Like, we already had some regulars come in. So it feels definitely better to be back."
Staff writers Briana Bierschbach and Jeremy Olson contributed to this story.
James Walsh • 612-673-7428