Area restaurants and bars are hunkering down for an extended closure after Gov. Tim Walz ordered a statewide closure of all restaurants, bars, and other places of accommodation and amusement — with the exception of take-out, delivery, and pick-up options — between 5 p.m. March 17 to 5 p.m., March 27.

Among local lawmakers and small business owners, there were mixed reactions to Walz’ executive order — although, there was unanimous support for measures to promote the well being of the Brainerd lakes area community at large.

Following the Minnesota Department of Public Health’s announcement Monday, March 16, the number of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota climbed past 50 with multiple cases of community transmission, Walz signed Executive Order 20-04 to order the temporary closure of Minnesota restaurants and bars to dine-in customers.

According to a news release, he also ordered the temporary closure of other places of public accommodation and amusement, including theaters, museums, fitness centers, and community clubs.

In an effort to support the many Minnesotans affected by these closures, Executive Order 20-05 is intended to strengthen Minnesota’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and ensure that workers who are not able to work as a result of COVID-19 have benefits available. Specifically, the order will waive the employer surcharge and allow the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to pay unemployment benefits immediately, providing fast relief to employees who need it.

“As the cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota continue to climb, we must take decisive action to curb the spread of this pandemic and protect the health and safety of Minnesotans,” Walz stated in the release. “This is a challenging time for business owners, employees, children and families alike. We must come together as One Minnesota to care for our neighbors and slow the spread of COVID-19.”

In a news release Tuesday, March 17, State Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, praised Walz and his administration for collaborating with Republican lawmakers in legislation to address the looming outbreak, but questioned the rationale in Walz’s decision to close down so many small and private businesses across the state of Minnesoa.

“I sincerely hope the Governor will reconsider his decision to close down most private businesses – including, but definitely not limited to, bars and restaurants. These small businesses, especially those in areas of Greater Minnesota not yet impacted by COVID-19, are the backbone of our state’s economy,” Ruud stated in the release. “Many of them have high overhead and low margins. A sweeping declaration like this seems premature. Ordering them to close, even for two weeks, will have a disastrous effect not just on our economy, but on thousands of hourly wage earners and small business owners.”

In talks with restaurants and liquor establishments across the Brainerd lakes area, workers noted business owners were bracing for a closure for some time, and that many businesses were cutting back on orders and communicating with their employees in the event of an extended closure.

Shalee Britton, general manager of Prairie Bay Restaurant and Catering, said the restaurant had been rearranging its tables so as to distance groups of people and redoubling their cleaning and sanitation regimens, as well as shifting toward a take out and delivery model of business. Business in general, she noted, had been relatively steady and unremarkable in the lead up to Monday’s announcement.

Shalee Britton, general manager of Prairie Bay Restaurant and Catering in Baxter, sanitizes a table Monday, March 16. With Gov. Tim Walz's executive order Monday mandating the statewide closure of all restaurant dine-in options, bars, and other places of accommodation and amusement, between 5 p.m. March 17 to 5 p.m., March 27, local  businesses like Prairie Bay will look to take out and delivery options to make ends meet. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch
Shalee Britton, general manager of Prairie Bay Restaurant and Catering in Baxter, sanitizes a table Monday, March 16. With Gov. Tim Walz's executive order Monday mandating the statewide closure of all restaurant dine-in options, bars, and other places of accommodation and amusement, between 5 p.m. March 17 to 5 p.m., March 27, local businesses like Prairie Bay will look to take out and delivery options to make ends meet. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

“We just won't be able to seat them in here, so we’re doing takeout and delivery for a couple mile range from Prairie Bay,” Britton said.

As for Miguel Barboza, the closure means businesses like Señor Patrón are going to take a hefty hit in the checkbook, but if that has to be done to protect families, small children, the elderly, and the community at large, then so be it. After seeing a healthy uptick in business in recent months — and on the heel of a number of inhouse renovations — the coronavirus is severely reducing traffic into the Mexican eatery in downtown Brainerd.

“It’s dropped like 35% and I get why. I’m a family guy,” said Barboza, who estimated it’s a 85%/15% split between dine-in and bar customers at Señor Patrón. “I have a family of five. If I have to choose between going out to eat or staying in my house because of the coronavirus that we may be facing, I will do the second option.”

The plan going forward is to support employees as long as he is able, Barboza said, while also tackling whatever tasks they can while the restaurant is closed to the public — which, he said, may include more renovations and additions to the restaurant.

“If the state says that we need to close, we're gonna close,” Barboza said. “But I told my employees for the next couple weeks, I will pay your full pay, but we have stuff to do in the restaurant, like sanitize the restaurant from inside, outside. Clean. We’ve got some projects that we've been holding for a while, it may be time to get it done.

Restaurant owner Miguel Barboza said Señor Patrón had seen customer traffic dip around 35% In the days leading up to Monday, March 16, executive order by Gov. Tim Walz to close restaurant dine-in options, bars, as well as other places of accommodation and amusement between March 17-27. While it was a difficult situation to handle, he said he understood, as a family man, why people need to put the well being of their loved ones at the forefront. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch
Restaurant owner Miguel Barboza said Señor Patrón had seen customer traffic dip around 35% In the days leading up to Monday, March 16, executive order by Gov. Tim Walz to close restaurant dine-in options, bars, as well as other places of accommodation and amusement between March 17-27. While it was a difficult situation to handle, he said he understood, as a family man, why people need to put the well being of their loved ones at the forefront. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

Jerod Ross, owner of the Parlor, said business at the downtown bar has stayed relatively average and steady over the last five days — though, he criticized measures by the Walz administration as overly-reactive and a detriment to small businesses like the Parlor.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous. We don't have confirmed cases here. We're a small town in the middle of nowhere,” Ross said. “It should be an optional thing. It's an adult establishment. If you want to come in here, you have to be an adult, you have to make an adult decision. … As a business owner who depends on revenue, you’re looking at a forced closure? What’s the response to that? Is somebody else going to pay the bills?”

“The mass hysteria is out of control,” Ross said. “The virus is a real thing. It’s happening. It’s nothing people can deny or conspiracy about, but if you focus on your daily hygienics and be cautious, we’ll be fine.”

think the most important thing is to just as a community, we got to stick together, help each other out, make sure your neighbors taken care of, you know, where I come from, you just, you take care of those around you, whether they're family, friends, family, or neighbors or whoever it

Ross said the initial plan is to postpone shipments and bar-related purchases for the immediate future, as well as to redouble cleaning and sanitizing regimens. If the state and federal government is going forward with the expectation that small businesses like restaurants and bars will have to close for an extended period of time, Ross then there should also be some form of financial support or institutional aid by officials to buoy these businesses through the coming rough stretch.

At the end of the day, Ross encouraged people to remember their fellow members of the community and to think in terms of the greater good.

“I think the most important thing is to, as a community, stick together, help each other out, make sure your neighbors taken care of,” Ross said. “Where I come from, you take care of those around you, whether they're family, friends, family, or neighbors or whoever it is. Make sure our elderly have what they need and our young have what they need and let’s push through as a community. We'll be fine.”

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at gabe.lagarde@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch.