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Lines shorten, space constraints loosen at license office as COVID-19 wanes

When the Brainerd License Office reopened its doors last year to foot traffic during the pandemic, it had to contend with long lines, especially those renewing various licenses that expired during the statewide stay-at-home order.

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Julie Mayclin (left) and her daughter Kirsten talk to Tanicia Broberg at the Brainerd License Office Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Things have changed from days of the pandemic and mask requirements. Motorists were used to seeing lines of people outside the building spaced apart in all kinds of weather. Now, according to managers Donny and Traci Vosen, " If people come in with masks, our employees put on masks to serve them." Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

What a difference a year makes.

Lines that had often extended outside the Brainerd License Office’s doors and around the building during the coronavirus pandemic last year are now something Donny Vosen hopes is a distant memory.

“We still deal with lines but not because of the pandemic or anything but just because of the REAL ID (license),” said Vosen, one of the managers of the Brainerd-based service provider. “We are so short of help ... like everybody else around here.”

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A REAL ID-compliant license or identification card (or another acceptable form of identification, such as an enhanced driver’s license or ID card, or a valid U.S. passport book or card) will be required to board a domestic flight or enter a federal facility starting May 3, 2023.

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Customers wait Tuesday, July 13, 2021, inside the Brainerd License Office. As COVID-19 cases decline, there are no longer limits on the number of stations open and customers do not need to line up outside the building. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Vosen said the office has kept busy processing REAL ID applications but it has been a relatively quiet July compared to last year, when lines followed the building’s exterior walls.

But a different frustration has affected the business this year.

“Construction around here is not helping us either,” Vosen said Tuesday, July 13. “One time this summer we had construction on three sides of us. … That doesn’t help matters any, but we have survived the pandemic.”

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The new roundabout on Northwest Fourth Street between Washington and Jackson streets across from Essentia Health Sports Center shown here Thursday, June 17, 2021. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

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Road construction crews are finishing the construction of a new roundabout near Essentia Health Sports Center, which is kitty-corner to the Brainerd License Office at Northwest Fourth and Jackson streets, as well as finishing reconstruction of Northwest Fourth Street to Washington Street. The roundabout partially opened on June 10.

But even with the road work, the office has remained busy.

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The Brainerd License Office is now open for normal business. After a year of socially distanced outside lines, the office can now accommodate lines of people inside. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“Our five lines are still ringing nonstop — oh, yeah,” Vosen said. “But we’ve gotten smarter. We are encouraging people to email us more, so we can, you know, answer at our leisure. … We can answer the emails any time a day rather than just when the phone rings.”

Minnesota Auto & Driver’s License of Brainerd, also more commonly known as the Brainerd License Office, is unlike other Driver and Vehicle Services offices in that it has been independently operated since 1963.

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Brainerd License Office managers Traci and Donny Vosen hold Scully, a Tibetan terrier, and Decca, an English setter, Tuesday, July 13, 2021, at the office. The dogs are familiar faces around the building as people come in to apply and maintain their licenses. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Technology, however, has allowed customers more ways to conduct their business with the license office — something Vosen encourages.

Vosen said people can pre-apply online for a driver’s license by visiting dps.mn.gov and save some time and effort that way.

“For the driver’s license, my advice is to use the pre-app. It tells you what documentation to bring based on which of the three Minnesota licenses you want,” Vosen said of the standard driver’s license, the enhanced driver’s license or the REAL ID-compliant driver’s license.

“It’s the REAL ID that, I think, people should get if they’re ever gonna fly. But my personal advice is to get a passport and a passport card, which is easier to get than a Minnesota license for some strange reason, which I do not understand,” Vosen said.

The office reopened its building doors on June 1, 2020, for face-to-face transactions after temporarily closing the facility. Because of social distancing at the time, people waited outside to get in on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Customers wrap around the Brainerd License Office Thursday, June 19, 2020, in west Brainerd. After closing for three weeks because of the state's COVID-19 shutdown, a backlog of customers emerged. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

Vosen hopes those days are behind him.

“People no longer have to wait outside. We’re not doing any appointments right now. People can come in,” Vosen said. “We’re encouraging mask usage for anybody that feels vulnerable. And our people are still wearing masks if somebody approaches them with a mask.”

In order to keep social distancing during last year’s pandemic, customers were instructed to wait at one of only five stations to be served by a Brainerd License Office staff member. Those limits have been removed.

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“We’ve opened up all of the 10 stations. We’re not limited to the five anymore,” Vosen said. “Before, we were using every second station a year ago because of the pandemic.”

The office provides motor vehicle license plates, titles, registration tabs, vehicle transfers and other related items as well as driver’s licenses, permits and identifications.

The Brainerd License Office also handles Department of Natural Resources titles and registrations for boats, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles.

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“We’ve changed our website a lot to help people with a ‘How Do I???’ tab … that tells people how to do a lot of things,” Vosen said of the office’s website at licensemn.com .

A dropbox is available at the building for motor vehicle and Department of Natural Resources renewals and other simple transactions to expedite processes and minimize contact; payment can be made by check, credit or debit card, or money order but must be exact.

“It’s keeping a lot of people out of the office because they’re using the dropbox, which we encourage,” Vosen said. “And we’ve gotten smarter on the webpage as far as simplifying things for people — at least we hope that it’s simpler.”

RELATED: More than 100,000 Minnesota drivers have invalid licenses now that COVID-19 extension has ended

Brainerd License Office clerks are certified by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Driver and Vehicle Services division. They are also Computerized Vehicle Registration-certified and National Motor Vehicle Title Information System-certified.

For more information about the Brainerd License Office and the services it provides, call 218-855-5169, email brainerd@licensemn.com or visit licensemn.com .

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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