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Albert Lea business owners look forward to reopening

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s announcement that the stay-at-home order would expire and retail businesses would be allowed to open Monday brought much relief to local business owners. 

Under Walz’s new “Stay Safe MN” order announced Wednesday evening, Minnesotans still will be asked to stay close to home and limit themselves to essential travel, according to The Associated Press. An additional executive order allows retail stores, malls and Main Street businesses to reopen for in-store shopping if they have social distancing in place for workers and customers and are at no more than 50% occupant capacity.

“After two months of offering online shopping and two weeks of curbside pickups, we are thrilled to be able to reopen and feel like the timing is good,” said Angela Moller, who owns The Homestead Boutique with her husband, Matt. “We’re confident that we can serve our customers while prioritizing the health of our community and being sensitive to the needs of the high-risk population.”

For Andrea Hall, who co-owns Junktion Market with Penny Thompson, the reaction to Walz’s announcement was two-fold.

“One: Great, we can open, we miss our customers and the interaction with them and we need to pay bills,” she said. “Two: Is it too soon? There is still an increase in cases locally, complacency will not help anyone at this time, how can we do this and everyone be as safe as possible?”

As part of The Homestead Boutique’s plans to reopen amid COVID-19 concerns, Moller said high-touch surfaces will be regularly disinfected throughout the day, clothing will be sanitized after it has been tried on and store capacity will be kept low. The Mollers will be wearing masks and will have hand sanitizer available for customer use. Moller said the business, which is at 415 E. William St. in Albert Lea, will also offer private shopping appointments and curbside pickup to accommodate everyone’s comfort levels and preferences. 

Hall said a plan is still being worked on for Junktion Market, which is at 136 S. Broadway Ave. in downtown Albert Lea. She said they will most likely request masks be worn in the store if possible, ask people to practice social distancing and will keep a minimum of shoppers within the store. They may post a request that people refrain from handling items as much as possible. There will be hand sanitizer as well as Clorox wipes available on the counter and the store will still “gladly” offer curbside pickup and delivery. There won’t be any classes scheduled for the foreseeable future, but there will still be grab-and-go kits for people to purchase to do their own projects. 

Also during Walz’s Wednesday address, a tentative reopening date of June 1 was set for restaurants and hair salons.

“We were so excited to see Governor Walz announcing a date for reopening,” said Holly Miller, who owns B & B Cafe with her husband, Clint. “It truly helps. We have missed our customers and staff so much. It’s reassuring to see an end in sight. I was able to breathe and start looking forward to knowing when we will be back.”

Miller said they have worked on a reopening plan of 50% capacity at the restaurant, which is at 321 Sibley St. in Albert Lea, and have selected which booths and countertops can be used. They’re also putting together a carryout and reservation plan that will be through a text system.

“We feel confident in our new business plan, that we will be (able to) go forward with the safety of our staff and customers coming first,” she said. “It won’t be like it was, but we will do our best for everyone.”

Natalie Chavez, who owns The Elbow Room with her husband, Troy, said their restaurant will not be ready to reopen to the public June 1, as they’re taking this time to remodel the building. The restaurant, at 310 E. Eighth St. in Albert Lea, will continue to offer carryout and delivery.

“We have had very strong support from the community through delivery and takeout,” Chavez said. “Business has been great and we are very thankful.”

Thirsty Fox Pub & Grill owner Karl Milliron has kept his business completely closed since March, but said he and his staff will be ready whenever they are able to reopen. Milliron said he had been following the coronavirus pandemic’s effects elsewhere, so the shutdown didn’t come as a surprise to him. He had already been implementing sanitizing chemicals from his kitchen to the seating area of the restaurant, which is at 1105 S. Broadway Ave. in Albert Lea. 

While he said Thirsty Fox is strong and sitting pretty well financially, he has sensed a lot of financial stress from others he knows in the restaurant industry. 

“This couldn’t have come at a worse time in the industry,” Milliron said, as December through February tend to be slower months for restaurants, while things start to pick up in March through May for the busier time of year. 

Opening back up at 50% capacity will be a challenge, as Milliron said that’s taking 50% of the possible revenue out of the equation for some, which could be potentially too much to handle for some restaurants. He said they have some ideas at Thirsty Fox for how to overcome that, but they were too premature to share. Still, he said it’s important that reopening is done while keeping people’s health in mind.

“I think it’s really important for people to be safe,” he said. “I think Governor Walz will do the right thing. … I think it should be science-based.”

While the news of being able to reopen is positive, there is still work to be done to get back to normal, Moller said. They’ve been delighted to ship items across the country, she said, and it has been a fun challenge in creativity to offer personal shopping virtually, building new customer relationships in the process.

“I think difficult times tend to enhance the qualities a person already has. As entrepreneurs, we’re hard-working, creative and self-reliant, and the pandemic has made us more of all of those things,” she said. “… It will take time to bounce back financially after two very lean months, but I’m confident that our community will be supportive of small businesses and that we’ve built even more loyal customers during this time.”

Hall said the past few months could’ve been much worse for Junktion Market, but the business was lucky to have an understanding landlord who reduced the rent and has been supportive, she said. They were also able to have online sales and scheduled pickup times, and Hall said they’re grateful to all who have supported Junktion Market through this time. 

“Big stores and chains will survive this. It is your small and local shops with few employees who are really struggling and have little recourse or assistance from the government,” she said. “Please continue to support them if you want small, local businesses to survive.”

Miller said that, while it has been scary — “When your income is just gone, it’s completely frightening” — they have found time to reconnect in their family while not being able to work their typical 70-hour weeks at B & B. They were also lucky to have a friend who made shirts and sold them as a fundraiser for the cafe, she said, and others either donated to or purchased gift cards from the business. 

“As usual, our community shined with support and kind words that lifted our spirits,” she said. “Albert Lea is such a special community. Once we all get back, we know it’s going to be an adjustment. But we know how wonderful and supportive our community is. … We are so proud to be part of it.”

 

About Colleen Harrison

Colleen Harrison is the photo editor at the Albert Lea Tribune. She does photography and writes general-assignment stories.

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