For many local restaurants and bars, 2020 has been a white-knuckle affair from the beginning and, as the calendar winds down into December, it may be so right up until the end.
Skyrocketing rates of COVID-19 across the state prompted Gov. Tim Walz to announce Wednesday, Nov. 18, regulations on bars and restaurants that include restrictions on indoor services starting at midnight Friday, Nov. 20, lasting four weeks until midnight Friday, Dec. 18. Takeout and curbside services will still be available.
Wednesday’s announcement marks a return to restrictions restaurants and bars were subject to earlier this year at the advent of the coronavirus pandemic. However, while there may have been some scepticism regarding the necessity of these restrictions in May, the climbing number of COVID-19 infections and deaths now may seem to make it a no-brainer — albeit one that still poses a significant challenge for local businesses across the lakes area. In short, the response from restaurant owners was grim, but resolved.
“The initial shutdown I had a lot of issues with, because I do feel it was unwarranted for our region, but now we’re seeing a spike here,” said Patrick Sundberg, Jack Pine Brewery's owner, founder and brewer, during a phone interview Wednesday, Nov. 18. “Now, I kind of saw the writing on the wall. The cases are climbing. … As much as I don’t like to see it, it’s the right move. We just have to.”
At the Local 218 in northeast Brainerd, owner P.J. Severson said his business has taken some of these restrictions on itself for the last few weeks, without guidance from the governor’s office, in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 as health care facilities fill with patients of the pandemic.
“It was a choice for the community. At some point in time, when you see something going on, and you don't see most of the people doing the right thing, you have to stand up and do the right thing,” Severson said during a phone interview Wednesday night. “It's so hard for us in restaurants to control the public and when most of the public does not believe in COVID, it made it very, very hard on us and our bare-bones staff.”
At Sage on Laurel in downtown Brainerd, owner Sarah Hayden Shaw said it’s a difficult pill for restaurants to swallow. Going without indoor dining options has proven particularly difficult and, unlike the first ban this spring, many small businesses will do so without government aid in the form of Paycheck Protection Program loans and the like.
But, it has to happen, Shaw said, in order to protect people.
“It was probably the right call. We've been getting increasingly nervous having people in the restaurant as much as we have,” Shaw said during a phone interview. ”It's not something that anybody likes and I don't like it. I don't want to be closed, but I certainly understand and I want people to be safe and would absolutely hate it if people got this virus after being at my restaurant.”
In turn, Sundberg said local communities have to buy local and support restaurants and bars throughout the lakes area during upheaval on this scale. Many businesses are facing a thinner stretch even during the best of times, he added, but they’re doing so now with smaller and smaller profit margins and less and less government support.
“Jack Pine will make it through this, but it's definitely going to be a challenge,” Sundberg said. “People were really supporting their local businesses (earlier this year) and that’s really important now. People need to support their local businesses. Now, more than ever, it's time to renew that support for your local businesses — those bars and restaurants — and support them as much as you can.”