Home improvement projects keep coronavirus-cautious homebodies busy

Hardware and home improvement stores such as Brainerd Ace Hardware on Washington Street are considered essential businesses and exempt from most shutdown orders.

Baxter resident Kalsey Stults adjusts a picture on her gallery wall Tuesday, April 7, during the governor's stay-at-home order. Stults and her boyfriend are catching up on the projects in their newly purchased home. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Kalsey Stults and Alyssa “Al” Gawboy now have to work from home, but with nowhere to go and orders to stay put because of the coronavirus, their individual houses have never looked better.

“I think it’s also made me kind of aware of my background and making sure that I’m in spaces that maybe bring me happiness and that things are orderly, so I can find things fast,” said Stults, a Crow Wing Energized community health and wellness specialist.

The Baxter residents find themselves with more time at home like many other Minnesotans to tackle home improvement projects they may have procrastinated doing before the pandemic.


“If this situation would not be happening right now, we would not have done the kitchen floor yet, and we would not have started painting the cabinets, basically because it’s a multi-stage process,” Gawboy said. “We had to take out the refrigerator, we had to move the stove.”

Busy body, busy mind

The 28-year-old Gawboy works for Crow Wing Energized as a community health educator with a focus on mental health.

“A lot of people are facing different mental health crises now that they’re stuck in their homes — people that are suffering from anxiety or depression. This is really triggering more of that because they are being more self-isolated,” Gawboy said.

Al Gawboy works as a community health educator with Crow Wing Energized. Submitted photo / Alyssa Gawboy

Gawboy said home improvement projects not only often improve a home’s value but offer a way to keep bodies and minds engaged for overall wellness.

“I think with a home project specifically that has been a unique way to keep us moving and not just sitting, and it’s not actually like exercise … not like, ‘Oh, I have to go out for a walk or a run or whatever.’ And it definitely has some therapeutic (benefits),” Gawboy said.

With social distancing and self-quarantine the “new norm,” cooped-up residents with cabin fever after a long winter are finally getting around to their “honey-do” lists.


“It’s easy to watch Netflix and watch YouTube, but those things kind of become repetitive and you don’t finish feeling like you’ve done anything worthwhile,” Stults said.

The 28-year-old Stults has been working from her master bedroom for about three weeks and communicating with the world at large via videoconferencing and email.

“When I am on the webcam, I want to make sure that when people are viewing me, or me viewing them, that my background looks as professional as possible even when there’s a bed behind me,” Stults said.

Stay-at-home order

Gov. Tim Walz said during a Wednesday, April 8, news conference he is extending his stay-at-home executive order that went into effect March 27 through May 4.

Stults said of her boyfriend, “He is a county employee, and he’s been asked to work from home as well, so he’s working in the room adjacent to me. It’s been interesting for us both to be home and working in kind of the same vicinity.”

Kalsey Stults arranges her artwork Tuesday, April 7, on her Baxter home during the mandatory stay at home order by Minnesota Governor Walz. This has been a time for Stults and her boyfriend to complete the projects they planning for later. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The couple bought their home last year and postponed any home improvements until this spring. But with the coronavirus situation worsening, they started picking paint colors last month.


“We have a brand new house, so everything’s white and very sterile, and we just wanted to bring some color and make it feel a little more homey,” Stults said.

Hardware and home improvement stores such as Brainerd Ace Hardware on Washington Street are considered essential businesses and exempt from most shutdown orders.

“People have decided, ‘Well, I’m at home. I’ve got nothing else to do. I’ve been thinking about painting that room or those rooms,’ and that’s what they’re doing,” said Hal Swanson, the manager of Brainerd Ace Hardware.

Stults said of her boyfriend, “We’ve been cleaning out our garage and organizing and spring cleaning and, you know, even organizing our closets and getting rid of stuff that we haven’t worn.”

The couple has even taken to going through their pantry and closets to see what they could donate to area food shelves or thrift stores when the stay-at-home order expires.

“We’re just trying to make our house feel as comfortable as possible while we’re kind of stuck staring at it every day,” Stults said. “We did our entryway this weekend and there were no casualties. Nobody got upset with each other. We had fun. We listened to music.”

Home improvement projects

Walz earlier issued orders closing bars, restaurants and areas of public amusement, and although home stores are considered essential businesses and remain open, they are not without risk.

“You have everything from the customer coming in wearing a face mask who wants to get in and out … to those just coming into browse, who you know they’re supposed to be sheltering at home and ... they’re just bored, looking for something to do,” Swanson said.


Stults said, “We did end up ordering a couple of supplies online and just getting them shipped to us. That way, we were making sure that we weren’t going out if we didn’t have to.”

Other projects on Stults’ “honey-do” list include repainting secondhand furniture she received when she moved into her home or staining some outdoor furniture to use later in the year.

Kalsey Stults checks a paint sample Tuesday, April 7, on her Baxter home. During the stay at home order, Stults and her boyfriend have been trying out different paint samples. Steve Kohls / Brianerd Dispatch

“We just wanted to do some projects where we felt like, you know, there’s some satisfaction when we’re done … something that we can be proud of a year from now or two years from now,” Stults said.

Gawboy and her husband married in December and moved into an older lake home requiring lots of renovations.

“Basically, the house is from the ‘50s, and we’ve done quite a bit already, but it’s funny because being home now we definitely have the time to do a lot of the projects that we’ve been talking about doing,” Gawboy said.

Gawboy’s husband is a superintendent for a construction company, so she said they were able to put in a new kitchen floor by themselves.


“And then we’re going to be doing a bunch of painting of our kitchen cabinets, which is very, very time consuming, and so we’ll be starting that here really soon,” Gawboy said.

Home Depot in Baxter was the couple’s store of choice for some of their home repair or home renovation projects.

“They've been great. Their hours are a little more limited now, but they have more than enough people there to help you and basically get you in out there as fast as you can — like they don't really want you wandering around the store,” Gawboy said.

However, Home Depot was not the only store Gawboy has checked out.

Dave Schuldheisz (left) watches Ace Hardware employee Pat Fundine load a new leaf blower into his pickup Tuesday, April 7. Business was brisk as warm weather combined with the governor's stay-at-home order made it possible for residents to catch up on projects that have been sidelined. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“Menards was a little busier — still able to get in and out both pretty fast. We don't have any crazy stories about fighting over paint or anything or the materials that we needed,” Gawboy said.

Menards announced last week children younger than 16 years old and pets are no longer allowed inside the building. Those who look under the age of 16 will be asked to show a photo ID. Service dogs will continue to be permitted.


Fleet Farm, with its roots in the Brainerd lakes area, is the third big box home improvement store in Baxter.

“The one issue we ran into, if we did try to go to Fleet Farm, is they do all their stuff online now and so you can order it online and pick it up in store but it takes up to four hours, so we ran into that problem on Sunday. We needed to get some kind of base for the floor,” Gawboy said.

Stults said, “People are having to decide if it is worth going into a store — putting yourself potentially at risk or other people at risk — to get some of those materials, and we tried to do our best to get everything weeks and weeks ago before we ever had to come to that decision.”

A sign in front of Menard's Thursday, April 9, in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Minimizing contact

Swanson is also the owner-manager of Staples Ace Hardware. He stated his staff is minimizing contact and offers many ways for customers to get what they need: buy online, pick up in-store and/or buy online, deliver from store.

“We also have a feature where you can order online, and we’ll bring it to your car, curbside service, and that’s exploded. … For the most part, most people are homebound and they’re not working. A lot of our customers are laid off and they’re just trying to stay busy,” Swanson said.

Swanson said the paint department has seen a lot of the sales, but Ace Hardware remains open also because some shuttered businesses are also taking this time to repair or renovate.

“No matter what’s going on out there in the world, things still break. If you break a pipe, you’ve got to get it fixed,” Swanson said.

Despite the increase in business, Swanson said he has shortened the number of hours Brainerd Ace Hardware is open because of the number of his experienced but older employees, a demographic more at risk to COVID-19.

“There’s going to be do-it-yourselfers out there that need things to fix things, so whether it’s electrical, plumbing — could be any number of things — but we are essential for that very reason,” Swanson said.

FRANK LEE, county and features reporter, may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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