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Business owners continue to grapple with the unknown, even as vaccinations increase
  • Updated

Local business owners disagree with some restrictions the state of Minnesota continues to impose, steps public health officials say are necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19.

This comes as Minnesota’s county fairs are cautiously planning a return to an in-person format this summer.

Torey’s co-owner questions state metrics

Torey Statlander, co-owner of Torey’s Restaurant and Bar in Owatonna said restaurant revenue is down 30% from normal levels, though it’s an improvement from the previous months. He notices that more people are becoming more comfortable entering the restaurant again. Still, Torey’s staff is operating under safety guidelines, wiping tables and menus.

Statlander said he’s skeptical of the restrictions, noting that large box stores are not facing that same limitations, which allows them to continuing to make significant revenue and attracting large crowds that frequently interact and touch shared spaces.

The ongoing losses come as Statlander said existing government-distributed payroll plans are expiring and funding from the latest round of funding through the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill recently passed by Congress has not been distributed to him. He is also looking for more communication from the state on when restrictions will be rolled back further.

In the meantime, Torey’s is catering weddings on weekdays as people scramble to find wedding dates after postponing planned 2020 events.

“A lot of people are waiting to see what they are going to do so they can start planning for these events,” Statlander said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 13 deaths were reported from the virus Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 7,044. Of that, 4,339 have come from residents who resided in long-term care or assisted living facilities. Those numbers come as 53% of Minnesotans ages 16 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Health officials have said there is a race to vaccinate as many Minnesotans as possible to minimize the impact of any variants.

Jean Thares, owner of Mainstream Boutique in Northfield, noted capacity restrictions are no longer in place for retail shops like hers. Health Department officials found transmission of the virus was relatively rare in such settings. Thares’ store has also seen an increase in the number of customers over the last four to six weeks because of the rollout of vaccines, but, Thares said, there is still a long way to go to reach pre-COVID-19 revenue levels.

‘It’s absolutely not necessary’

Faribault-based Fit For Life Owner Sheila Rolling noted the situation at her establishment is improving as more people are getting their COVID vaccinations. Seniors are now coming back to the gym, she said, though social distancing and capacity limits remain in place.

Rolling said the current 50% capacity limits on gyms should be lifted. However, she hasn’t received word from the state on when that could happen. She said there is continuing anxiety regarding the mask mandate because some who attend classes say it is not easy to exercise with a mask on. For those who cannot breathe with a mask on while exercising, Rolling noted they can take off their masks while maintaining social distancing.

“It’s absolutely not necessary,” she said of the requirement.

Fair organizers remain optimistic, uncertainty continues

Organizers from Rice and Steele County fairs and Northfield’s Riverwalk Market Fair plan to hold events this summer after canceling their 2020 seasons.

Rice County Fair Manager John Dvorak said the Fair Board will decide whether to have the fair by June 1 based on the guidelines from the Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Gov. Tim Walz. He is aware of the many factors that go into the event, including raising enough revenue to have free entertainment and offer the carnival. Reduced Grandstand capacity would make it more difficult to raise that money. Another consideration, Dvorak said, is necessary to consider is public willingness to attend an in-person fair in the coming months. Approximately 45,000 to 55,000 people attend on a yearly basis. The fairgrounds is planning to add sanitization stations and hand-washing areas.

Steele County Fair Manager Scott Kozelka noted organizers already planning to hold the fair Aug. 17-22 and are “staying positive” in the process. Kozelka called on the public to be vaccinated and follow the social distancing rules public health officials say are necessary to combat the spread of the virus. Though he acknowledged it would be beneficial to have more information on what the next few months will hold, fair officials are currently operating under existing regulations.

He said the Minnesota State Fair, from Aug. 26-Sept. 6, is likely in a similar position, and he also drew a similarity between the two events in that they both draw vendors from across the country.

Kozelka noted the local cancellation of the Steele County Fair caused extensive revenue losses not only on-site but also in Steele County grocery stores and restaurants. The State Fair reported a $16.2 million revenue loss last year.

Drawing more than 250,000 visitors every year, the Steele County Fair is considered the largest summer event in Owatonna and hosts more than 500 booths with over 100 different food stands annually.


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FHS plans outdoor graduation, senior appreciation event
  • Updated

It’s been the burning question for Faribault High School parents in recent months, particularly for parents of seniors: What does FHS plan to do for prom and graduation?

During the second year of the pandemic, these milestone events for upperclassmen will look a bit more “normal” compared to last year, but capacity is still limited.

FHS Principal Jamie Bente told the Faribault School Board during its Monday meeting that the administration is looking at 2 p.m. June 6 for a graduation date at Bruce Smith Field. Each graduate will be allowed up to four guests if the outdoor ceremony proceeds. In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will remain on the same day but shift to the gymnasium. For an indoor event, each senior is allowed two guests. If the event location changes, families will know by 10 a.m. that morning.

This graduation format is a bit more traditional than last year, when the class of 2020 participated in a drive-thru style commencement at FHS. Each graduate rode in the same vehicle as their families and took turns stepping outside for photos, which were used for a virtual commencement video. This year, the graduation will again be livestreamed for guests who are unable to attend.

Compared to last year, Bente said schools had a better understanding of the guidelines and more information from the state at an earlier date. In 2020, he recalled schools were scrambling to put a graduation together because state guidelines were released so late in the spring.

This year, the Minnesota departments of Health and Education guidelines are based on capacity and distance, which is dependent on the size of venues at each school. While some schools have access to a stadium that holds 20,000, others might only have a baseball diamond. Bente said most schools in the region figured out a format that involves outdoor seating and limited guests for graduation.

Where prom was cancelled last year, FHS developed an alternative this time around. Bente said a senior appreciation event is planned for the evening of Saturday, May 15 at Bruce Smith Field in lieu of prom. The celebration will consist of a grand march, carnival games and fireworks, similar to what other schools have planned in the area.

“The students have been involved from the beginning,” Bente said. “The students and the parents are the ones doing all the planning now. We set the parameters of what we can and can’t do, and let them run with it.”

The rain date for the senior appreciation event is the following Saturday, May 22. If the second option falls through, Bente said the event will likely be cancelled because if an outbreak or a positive COVID-19 case occurs, the administration doesn’t want to push back the graduation date.

Unlike prom, the senior appreciation event is offered exclusively to FHS seniors to keep the capacity limited.

“Next year hopefully students who are juniors this year should be able to have a regular prom,” Bente said.

Faribault High School and Middle School students returned to school in person March 29, and since then, Bente said, “We seem to be — knock on wood — doing well.”

According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, which shows the 14-day case rate at each school, there are no current cases at most buildings and less than five each at FHS, the middle school and Lincoln Elementary.

Tracy Corcoran, director of teaching and learning, provided a quick distance learning update at the end of the meeting Monday.

“It has been really successful having students back in buildings,” she said. “The morale has increased when you have people in front of you reminding you why you do what you do.”


News
spotlight
Business owners continue to grapple with the unknown, even as vaccinations increase
  • Updated

Local business owners disagree with some restrictions the state of Minnesota continues to impose, steps public health officials say are necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19.

This comes as Minnesota's county fairs are cautiously planning a return to an in-person format this summer.

Torey’s co-owner questions state metrics

Torey Statlander, co-owner of Torey’s Restaurant and Bar in Owatonna said restaurant revenue is down 30% from normal levels, though it's an improvement from the previous months. He notices that more people are becoming more comfortable entering the restaurant again. Still, Torey’s staff is operating under safety guidelines, wiping tables and menus.

Statlander said he's skeptical of the restrictions, noting that large box stores are not facing that same limitations, which allows them to continuing to make significant revenue and attracting large crowds that frequently interact and touch shared spaces.

The ongoing losses come as Statlander said existing government-distributed payroll plans are expiring and funding from the latest round of funding through the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill recently passed by Congress has not been distributed to him. He is also looking for more communication from the state on when restrictions will be rolled back further.

In the meantime, Torey’s is catering weddings on weekdays as people scramble to find wedding dates after postponing planned 2020 events.

“A lot of people are waiting to see what they are going to do so they can start planning for these events,” Statlander said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 13 deaths were reported from the virus Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 7,044. Of that, 4,339 have come from residents who resided in long-term care or assisted living facilities. Those numbers come as 53% of Minnesotans ages 16 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Health officials have said there is a race to vaccinate as many Minnesotans as possible to minimize the impact of any variants. 

Jean Thares, owner of Mainstream Boutique in Northfield, noted capacity restrictions are no longer in place for retail shops like hers. Health Department officials found transmission of the virus was relatively rare in such settings. Thares' store has also seen an increase in the number of customers over the last four to six weeks because of the rollout of vaccines, but, Thares said, there is still a long way to go to reach pre-COVID-19 revenue levels.

‘It’s absolutely not necessary’

Faribault-based Fit For Life Owner Sheila Rolling noted the situation at her establishment is improving as more people are getting their COVID vaccinations. Seniors are now coming back to the gym, she said, though social distancing and capacity limits remain in place.

Rolling said the current 50% capacity limits on gyms should be lifted. However, she hasn’t received word from the state on when that could happen. She said there is continuing anxiety regarding the mask mandate because some who attend classes say it is not easy to exercise with a mask on. For those who cannot breathe with a mask on while exercising, Rolling noted they can take off their masks while maintaining social distancing.

“It’s absolutely not necessary,” she said of the requirement.

Fair organizers remain optimistic, uncertainty continues

Organizers from Rice and Steele County fairs and Northfield's Riverwalk Market Fair plan to hold events this summer after canceling their 2020 seasons.

Rice County Fair Manager John Dvorak said the Fair Board will decide whether to have the fair by June 1 based on the guidelines from the Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Gov. Tim Walz. He is aware of the many factors that go into the event, including raising enough revenue to have free entertainment and offer the carnival. Reduced Grandstand capacity would make it more difficult to raise that money. Another consideration, Dvorak said, is necessary to consider is public willingness to attend an in-person fair in the coming months. Approximately 45,000 to 55,000 people attend on a yearly basis. The fairgrounds is planning to add sanitization stations and hand-washing areas.

Steele County Fair Manager Scott Kozelka noted organizers already planning to hold the fair Aug. 17-22 and are “staying positive” in the process. Kozelka called on the public to be vaccinated and follow the social distancing rules public health officials say are necessary to combat the spread of the virus. Though he acknowledged it would be beneficial to have more information on what the next few months will hold, fair officials are currently operating under existing regulations.

He said the Minnesota State Fair, from Aug. 26-Sept. 6, is likely in a similar position, and he also drew a similarity between the two events in that they both draw vendors from across the country. 

Kozelka noted the local cancellation of the Steele County Fair caused extensive revenue losses not only on-site but also in Steele County grocery stores and restaurants. The State Fair reported a $16.2 million revenue loss last year.

Drawing more than 250,000 visitors every year, the Steele County Fair is considered the largest summer event in Owatonna and hosts more than 500 booths with over 100 different food stands annually. 


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