Governor’s latest COVID-19 action does little to assuage business owners’ anxiety

By Per Peterson

Sissa Bitton, owner of Bitton’s Roadhouse in Garvin, doesn’t necessarily agree with how Gov. Tim Walz is slowly reopening Minnesota, but she knows she has to follow the rules and do the best she can until the pandemic blows over enough to allow people to resume some kind of sense of normalcy.

“There’s nothing more I would love to do than open up, even at half capacity — use the outside, use our back banquet room, do everything required to comply with the state for social distancing,” she said. “We’re ready to do that. The very second (Walz) says ‘open,’ we’ll be there.”

Walz last Thursday extended the Stay Home order and Bars, Restaurants and Public Accommodations executive order until Monday, May 18. He also announced “that retail businesses and other non-critical businesses will resume operations with curbside pick-up.”

According to the executive order, barbershops and salons may conduct retail product sales in accordance with certain requirements but cannot provide any services.

Silver Shears owner Larry Hansen said he will open for business as usual on May 18 no matter what and doesn’t pull any punches when sharing his views on last week’s announcement, which includes rules like using online payments when possible, mask-wearing by employees, following social distancing guidelines (customers should not leave their vehicles) and in delivery scenarios, items should be deposited outside a customer’s residence.

“Where’s the mindset on this?” he said. “The Cosmetology Board, the Barber Board and the State of the Minnesota have all told me I’m shut down — why has the Cosmetology Board, the Barber Board come back with a plan of action … the state hasn’t done nothing there. There is no plan of action.”

Hansen’s alternative plan would be to allow one client in the building at a time. The stations at Silver Shears are 8 feet apart and would ask every client to not touch anything but the chair they sit in and the countertop.

“And we would disinfect before and after every client,” he said. “Every client that comes in does hand sanitizer, every client that leaves does hand sanitizer again. I’ll guarantee you 100% you are so much safer in my place than you are in Wal-Mart or Menards. Nobody has better sanitation than a salon. This is insanely stupid.”

Hansen, whose Silver Shears business is also home to two self-employed hair stylists, does benefit from the Paycheck Protection Program, but said there are hundreds of thousands of people in the field who have yet to receive any unemployment support because of an inconsistent Minnesota Department of Unemployment website.

Over at The Caboose, Diane Fiegen was cautiously optimistic that they would be able to open at least at some capacity. Any sense of normalcy for her and her staff, however, won’t be realized just yet.

“It’s very disappointing,” she said. “I was positively expecting to be open in some way. They’re basically telling us we can only make so much money.”

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.