By the time Faribault UPS Store employees finished with a quick lunch break Monday, there was a line of customers waiting outside the locked front door, all patiently waiting to be served.

Though the UPS Store has been open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as an essential service, it was clear that the lifting of Minnesota’s stay-at-home order was just the encouragement people needed to get back out into the community. Many wore face masks and observed social distancing practices recommended by Public Health officials.

“You know how it is in Minnesota after a long winter, this winter just got really, really long,” said Nort Johnson, president of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. “Minnesotans as a whole are good people, and when rules are put out there for us to stay-at-home we will obey them. Now that it’s been lifted it’s like this endorsement to go out there again.”

Next door to the UPS Store, Holy Smoke Tobacco happily welcomed customers back into the store as opposed to the curbside pickup it has been using. Moe Tamimi, a shop employee, said that it shutting the facility from the public had a definite impact on business.

“It was hard for people who were handicapped,” Tamimi said. “They would have to come to the door and we would take what they want, bring it to them, come back to the register to ring them up, it was a process.”

Tamimi said that he already feels that business is getting back to normal on the first day the store was able to be open to the public following the governor's emergency order. Though he said that the customers are clearly showing extra precautions while they shop through social distancing and not touching items they don’t intend to buy, Tamimi added that he still sanitizes the counter and other areas in the store in between each customer. Johnson said this is precisely why it was time for the small businesses to reopen their doors.

“Nobody is going to go about their business in a way that is going to be harmful,” Johnson said. “The resources are out there, the guidance is out there, and the common sense is out there. From there it is really up to the business owners on how to best manage their facilities with their business models, which are all as different and diverse as our small business owners and what their businesses are.”

In Owatonna, where the Safe Shop Zone program kicked off last week to alert customers that the businesses have reopened and taken extra precautions to provide a safe shopping environment, Brad Meier said that the return of regular customers is the next stepping stone.

“We think that the people will come back,” said Meier, president of the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. “The more that businesses outwardly show that they are taking steps to help draw people back into their place of business, the more everyone will be ready to get back out there and get things moving.”

Meier said that the reopening of the small retailers is an important milestone for the overall reopening of the economy, anticipating that the more intimate settings of salons, bars and restaurants should receive guidelines from the state as early as Wednesday.

“The indications from the governor is that these places could possibly open on June 1, and having these guidelines out there that will indicate what they need to do when they open is important so they can start to prepare and get things ready to go,” Meier said. “It’s a tough situation for that group of businesses because they were the first to be closed and obviously are going to be the last to open, but this will be one of those opportunities to show the government that they’re ready to be open and do it the right way where it is safe for the public and their employees.”

Johnson echoed Meier’s comments, stating that business owners will continue to rise to the challenge to reopen the economy while keeping everyone safe.

“I am certainly glad that at least the handcuffs have been taken off to an extent,” Johnson said. “Accommodations that need to be made are best left in the hands of those running their operations, they know their business models and their facilities better than anybody and I’m confident that when they open for business that they are going to do a great job.”

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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