Northfield establishments are trying to safely remain open during COVID-19 while ensuring proper social distancing.

That led the Northfield Historical Society to apply for a temporary waiver of an agreement with the city to provide public bathroom access. The waiver would last through Sept.15.

The Northfield City Council on Tuesday rejected that request.

In requesting council approval, Northfield Historical Society Executive Director Cathy Osterman expressed concern that people seeking to use the bathroom would disrupt the pattern of traffic for guided tours and pose problems for front desk volunteers to ensure they are coming and going through the correct doors. Guided tours are the only way visitors can enter the Historical Society and are limited to a maximum of 10 people at once in a mainly outdoor format.

“With the location of our restrooms being in the center-back of the museum, anyone who needs to use them has to walk through most of the building to get there,” she said in a letter to the council. “That means an unsupervised visitor taking a non-predictive path through the building — that is exactly what we’re trying to avoid by setting up the tours as we have.”

The city assisted the Historical Society in financing the construction of the bathroom and stipulated that it be open to the public on Tuesdays through Sundays.

Councilor Jessica Peterson White, owner of the downtown business Content Bookstore, said although she was sympathetic to Osterman’s dilemma, she expressed concern that closing the public bathroom space would exacerbate an existing downtown shortage.

Peterson White said she didn’t want a desk worker to have to decide who was most in need of going to the bathroom.

“We either have a public bathroom or we don’t have a public bathroom,” she said.

Councilor Brad Ness spoke in favor of the plan.

“I hope this flies, because it makes a lot of sense,” he said.

The other supporting vote, Councilor David DeLong, asked if the city could provide a bathroom monitor to take pressure off the Historical Society. Another option he posed was the Historical Society further limiting tours to ensure people could be escorted to the bathroom. Fellow Councilor Suzie Nakasian supported the latter proposal.

The Historical Society isn’t the only Northfield establishment grappling with the changing landscape caused by the pandemic.

‘We’re wearing masks all of the time’

At Brick Oven Bakery, owner Dean Christensen noted private bathroom space is open for customers and staff. Employees clean bathroom space multiple times per day.

He said he isn’t particularly concerned with the possible spread of COVID-19 in bathrooms. Recent studies have found airborne droplets seem to be a more significant factor in spreading the virus. Also, Brick Oven Bakery has rarely been at 50% capacity. Christensen doesn’t anticipate capacity returning to normal until a vaccine is developed.

“We’re wearing masks all of the time,” he said.

“Business is slow, and it hasn’t come back anywhere near where it was before all this. We just have to get through this.”

Smoqehouse General Manager Nate Howells said the restaurant is only accepting takeout orders because of the lack of space in the facility and the need to spread tables 6 feet apart. Also, he views the move as a way to keep customers and staff safe and healthy.

He said Smoqehouse’s food options work well in a takeout format. A small waiting area is in place for customers.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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