Walz: Relaxing Retail Restrictions Will Put 33K Back to Work

Malls scramble to prepare for curbside and delivery service, while bars and restaurants will remain closed through May 18.

Walz: Relaxing Retail Restrictions Will Put 33K Back to Work
In Edina, the Galleria is in the process of assessing how many stores plan to offer curbside service.

Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday claimed that a slight loosening of Minnesota’s restrictions on retail could put as many as 33,000 Minnesotans back to work.

That’s a small consolation for the more than 584,000 people who have filed for unemployment since March 16. But Walz again emphasized the need to exercise caution in restarting the state’s economy.

At a press briefing at the state’s emergency operations center in St. Paul, the governor outlined plans for retailers across the state to begin offering curbside and delivery services.

“This is a big move,” Walz said. “This allows us to … validate the Minnesota way.”

Walz said he worked with the Minnesota Retailers Association, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and other business groups to develop the plan. Minnesota has more than 69,000 retailers, said Bruce Nustad, president of the state’s retail association. 

“It’s no secret that retail has been hit hard by Covid-19,” Nustad said. “We worked with the governor and his staff to really talk about how we need to balance that public health element with the economic health element. I think today’s action shows there’s a great understanding of the economics of today’s situation.”

Despite the slight relaxation of retail restrictions, Walz also extended his stay-at-home order through May 18. The prior order would have expired May 4. 

Doug Loon, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that “quite a number of businesses” were gearing up to reopen their doors fully on Monday. Still, he said the move to allow curbside and delivery service for retailers was a “step in the right direction.”

“We’re anxious to see more progress. As we work with our members, we’re seeing increasing interest to open, but also to open safely,” Loon said. “We’re working with them to develop preparedness plans so that when they are open … that they do it in a safe manner.”

On Thursday, malls were rushing to make arrangements for retail tenants to offer curbside pickups. Mall of America said several tenants expressed interest and starting Monday, stores can offer pickup services at the north entrance. "We will continue learning from our guests and tenants to modify operations as necessary and ensure the safest possible curbside pickup process," an MOA spokesperson said. A list of participating retailers and directions will be posted on the MOA website.

Galleria has assigned specific doors to retailers and will post signs for drive-up shoppers to follow. The Edina shopping center is in the process of assessing how many stores plan to offer curbside service.

Several Mall of America tenants have expressed interest in participating immediately. To begin this process, guests will be allowed to pick up their items at the North Entrance of the Mall. We will continue learning from our guests and tenants to modify operations as necessary and ensure the safest possible curbside pickup process. All MOA guests should check for a list of participating retailers and directions on how to order and pick up items.

Edina-based national women’s specialty retailer Evereve plans to offer curbside pickup beginning Monday at eight of its 10 Minnesota locations, excluding Mall of America and Ridgedale. Nationwide, the service will roll out next week to around half of its 95 stores across the country. Whether it will provide enough revenue to offset losses of several million in sales over the past six weeks, co-CEO Mike Tamte could say only, “we’ll see.”

While Thursday’s announcement allows dog groomers to open up, humans will have to wait at least a couple more weeks. Juut Salon Spas announced earlier this week that it was pushing off its reopening until June 1. Gem Salon + Spa in St. Paul announced an indefinite delay. But many had appointments on the books for next week that will now have to be rescheduled again. William Anderson, owner of Lili Salon and Tonic Barber at Galleria, estimated his staff has rescheduled more than 2,000 appointments—some two and three times. At this point, he said they may hold off rescheduling again until clear direction is provided by the state. Salons can, for now, sell retail products through curbside pickup or delivery. 

Meanwhile, permanent closures of some high-profile local businesses continue to pile up. On the heels of Izzy’s Ice Cream closing its original location in St. Paul, Eric Dayton announced Thursday that his award-winning North Loop restaurant and bar Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar will not reopen. 

“We were already walking a fine line before Covid-19,” Dayton said in a statement. “And given that no one knows how long the impacts of this pandemic will last, or what the new normal will be, I do not see a viable path forward.”

No formal word yet on plans for the retail side of his business, but the statement did say that the balance on unused restaurant and bar gift cards would transfer to Askov Finlayson. Dayton acknowledged his deep sadness but added that he agrees with the decisions Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey have made. “I strongly support the decisive steps they’ve taken to protect our collective wellbeing and this decision is not a result of their actions, which have been commensurate with the crisis we face.” 

To the restaurant community, Dayton added: “It has been an honor to be in your company and I believe in your ability to overcome these unprecedented challenges. Hospitality will be more important than ever as we heal from the shared trauma of this experience and I know you will continue to raise the bar for many years to come.”

The retail allowance cranked the metaphorical dial up on workplace settings, while social settings remain as is. 

“We are not setting these dials until May 18; we are setting them for today,” Walz said. 

He also recognized the fact that many elective surgeries are not in fact, elective, and an open forum on this has been opened to the public. Equipment stockpiles have opened the possibility of doing necessary surgeries. 

Restaurants and bars, meanwhile, won’t be allowed to open doors yet, and breweries will remain shuttered as well. Even if they were to be opened, the problem those businesses face is running at a limited capacity and people not being comfortable going out, said the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild executive director Lauren Bennett McGinty. 

“It really isn't going to magically allow those businesses, whether it's like a restaurant or bar brewery, to bounce back overnight,” she said. “It's going to be incredibly challenging no matter when we open up. And if we're adding more time to that it's gonna probably get worse before it gets any better.” 

The situation for breweries is already ominous, with crowler cans and growler containers running in low supply, events cancelled, foot traffic vanished, and plummeting distribution sales, breweries face dwindling revenue sources, she said. 

“Without additional off-sale options right now or any other temporary relief our breweries are definitely expecting to shut down forever, which is really sad and unfortunate and we kind of feel like nobody's helping us,” she said. “It's pretty dire out there.” 

There were also no adjustments made to outdoor activities, although Walz recognized the inequity of nets being removed from public spaces while golfing is allowed to operate. Camping and travelling distances more than necessary are still restricted as well, and as the weather turns nicer this begins to more noticeably impact businesses. 

Minnesota tourism is a $16 billion industry in sales, with 37 percent of that revenue coming from the spring and summer seasons, according to director of Explore Minnesota Tourism John Edman

“The bulk of the spending starts with families that travel with the ending of the calendar school year,” Edman said via email. “There is a significant loss in meetings, conventions and business travel to the state in the spring. It is yet to be seen if many of those events reschedule or simply cancel, in which case it would be a loss we cannot make up.”

He said the losses and impact are difficult to quantify, but that the tourism industry will eventually get back to some semblance of normal. It will just take time.

“As the weather gets warmer, people will be able to enjoy many outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, fishing, and golf close to home. However, they will not be able to spend dollars inside restaurants, bars, and attractions like they normally would, which impacts leisure and hospitality spending,” he said via email. “Lodging and sales tax has been impacted in the short run, which has a direct impact on the ability of communities to market themselves for future travel.”

For the industry to recover, he said it will take boosting traveler confidence, so that they feel safe.

“It’s a balance of reopening tourism businesses while maintaining the health and safety of staff, guests, and each community,” Edman said via email.

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