As businesses throughout the state begin to slowly reopen per Gov. Tim Walz’s plan, stores and shops in Owatonna are starting to look at what reopening will look like for them.

“Our members are worried,” said Brad Meier, president of the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. “They are worried that when they open, will their customers come back? There is no real guarantee of that, but there are things they can do to reassure folks that they have done all things possible to make them safe.”

To help aid their fellow businesses once it is time to reopen, the staff at Tri M Graphics in Owatonna has collaborated with the chamber and the Owatonna Business Partnership to help promote the “safe” areas for the community to shop. Mike Jensen, president of Tri M, said that his crew has printed posters, table tents and stickers that will be distributed to area businesses this week.

“We were all talking and trying to come up with an idea or concept on how to let the community know that these retail businesses are stepping up and putting safe practices into effect to create safe environment for their retail partners,” Jensen said.

The signs read, “Now Open! Safe Shop Zone” and are accompanied with table tents and stickers that can be placed on hand sanitizers and cleaning products that will help alert the public that the particular business is following guidelines that help ensure that shopping can be done safely. Meier said that the guidelines are a bit “flexible” solely because each store operates a bit differently from the next, changing what it will mean to keep the area “safe” as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“We are providing guidelines and best practices that we have compiled from the CDC, the Minnesota Chamber and the Minnesota Retailers Association,” Meier said. “What we have pulled together is fairly straightforward. We are trying to make sure that it’s something that we can live up to and show that there is a standard behind these safe zones.”

The criteria to be labeled a “Safe Shop Zone” in the Owatonna area includes, but is not limited to:

• Limiting the number of individuals in the business based on square footage.

• Installation of hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the store.

• Sanitizing fitting rooms between customers.

• Following social distancing recommendations throughout the store, including check-out areas.

• Following guidance regarding cleaning and sanitization for both routine cleaning and frequently touched surfaces.

• Making face masks available to store employees.

• Posting a reminder that high-risk populations should stay home.

Meier said that all Safe Shop Zone businesses are also encouraged to review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which the chamber will provide to each of its member,s as well as other best practices for operating safely within their business.

“This is all coming at a really good time because we are anticipating that the governor will be opening up small retail,” Meier said. “It is time for those businesses to really put their best foot forward as they are opening their doors, so we’re helping them make that game plan.”

Jensen said that it is important for there to be a sense of synergy throughout the business community to help the public feel confident that it is indeed safe to shop local once again, which is why he asked Tri M to donate the marketing materials.

“When businesses put these signs on their doors or have the table tents out, it will be a good indication to the general public that this is a safe place to shops and all the precautions are in place the best that they can,” Jensen said. “Certainly we have a commitment to the community – they have been very good to us – so this is a way for us to give back and do what we can to help everyone out.”

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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