Local restaurant and gym owners say they’re prepared to accommodate Gov. Tim Walz’s recent order to offer only limited outdoor seating next month but have mixed opinions on the necessity of the restrictions to combat COVID-19.

Walz announced Wednesday the partial opening of outdoor dining at restaurants and bars starting June 1, along with salons and barbershops at 25% capacity. Customers may be required to wear masks, make reservations and must practice social distancing requirements as a precaution against spreading the virus which can cause severe respiratory issues and even death

Kahlo owner Maria Estrada said she wouldn’t have opened the restaurant for indoor seating even if Walz had approved doing so because she wouldn’t have felt that customers and staff would be safe. She noted the restaurant doesn’t have outdoor seating, and probably would have continued to rely on takeout orders.

She said she supports Walz’s restrictions because she doesn’t believe restaurants across the state are ready to loosen restrictions. She anticipates such limits will be needed for a while.

“It’s hard, but I feel safer that way,” Estrada said.

Quarterback Club owner/manager Dale Finger said the restrictions shouldn’t impact his restaurant much because of the on-site outdoor seating but believes other establishments without that option will have a tougher time.

He said he wishes Walz would have allowed restaurants to allow patrons on the inside because he believes necessary precautions are being taken.

On the other hand, Cannon Strength owner Donovan Belcourt doesn’t understand why his business hasn’t been able to reopen. He believes the limited staff to member ratio allows for safe social distancing.

Belcourt’s gym has approximately 50 members, not counting Northfield athletes he trains who compete in hockey, skiing, volleyball and wrestling.

“Gyms would absolutely be able to follow similar procedures that other businesses are following to reopen,” he said. He distinguished his business to larger fitness centers in that foot traffic in those 24/7 facilities is harder to monitor.

“Unfortunately, it’s hard to have a voice,” Belcourt said of the ability of smaller gyms to lobby Walz’s office.

The pandemic closed the facility March 17, approximately two weeks before it was scheduled to triple in size and move into a 3,500-square-foot space.

Belcourt, who had already pegged May 1 as a deadline they would try to reopen if possible, now says that if the facility can’t open by July 1, he’ill likely have to seek other employment.

City advises restaurants to become acclimated with executive orders

In a press release Friday, the city of Northfield encouraged restaurant and bar owners and employees to familiarize themselves with the current executive orders and the safety, spacing and capacity limitations set by the state. It also advised businesses to prepare detailed plans for their outdoor spaces and include scaled measurements of tables, chair locations, aisle widths, perimeter dimensions and access controls for outdoor service.

Downtown businesses should clearly identify the spaces they need to ensure a viable operation, while still maintaining access for other businesses, said the city.

Northfield Community Development Director Mitzi Baker said the city is committed to supporting business operations while maintaining public health and safety.

City leaders are expected to share additional information once it gathers the details of current state guidelines and identifies a process to review outdoor customer service areas.

‘It has to be done responsibly’

Tanzenwald Brewing Co. president/lead brewer Stephen Pittman said recent staff conversations have centered around improving patio spaces. That is the approach he said staff feel most comfortable with to ensure everyone’s safety

“It doesn’t surprise me that Gov. Walz went with this,” he said of the limits.

Pittman noted Tanzenwald can safely accommodate 16 customers on its current patio but has submitted a request to the city to expand that area to the front, if only for the summer.

“We just want to be able to run a safe business for customers, but we also want to be able to run a business,” he said.

Pittman said he supports Walz’s limits because they help protect staff who are concerned that they could be an asymptomatic COVID-19 transmitter to the at-risk population.

“It’s very difficult to get piecemeal information, but it has to be done responsibly,” he said of the consistent uncertainty restaurant owners face.

Pittman said the brewery is doing OK after the state allowed takeout growlers. However, he expressed concern over the future if the restrictions last until late this year.

“We want to stay responsible, but I don’t want to go out of business either,” he said.

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

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