Minnesota takes another step toward normalcy

At 12 p.m. this Monday, Minnesota joined other states in relaxing measures put in place to protect citizens from COVID-19.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz last week announced that because Minnesota continues to make progress vaccinating Minnesotans and slowing the spread of COVID-19, residents can begin safely gathering with more friends and loved ones, supporting Minnesota’s small businesses and visiting large venues.

The new guidelines allow bars and restaurants to increase occupancy to 75%, with a limit of 250 people. The limits apply separately to indoors and outdoors, and bar seating has increased to parties of four. The guidelines also affect other businesses. The occupancy limit for salons and barbers has been removed, and the occupancy level for gyms, fitness centers and pools is now at 50%, up from 25%. Also, outdoor classes can increase to 50 people. The allowable occupancy for entertainment venues was boosted to 50%, up from 25%, both indoors and outdoors, with a limit of 250.

The news was much-welcomed by Diane Fiegen at The Caboose, an establishment that has lost somewhere in the vicinity of $600,000 in banquet hall revenue because they haven’t been able to host large gatherings. The Caboose, which like other eating establishments was forced to shut down a year ago this week, received some financial help from the state and county, but not nearly enough to erase their massive losses suffered from the last year.

“Our daily business hasn’t been too bad,” Fiegen said. “Our event business still isn’t coming in. We’ve had weddings call and ask us what can be done and all we can tell them is what the current mandates are doing. Usually by Valentine’s Week, we have about two weddings a month booked, and we don’t have that.”

Fiegen said The Caboose does have one wedding booked in April, one in May, one in June, one in August and one in September. The Caboose will host the Tracy Area Chamber of Commerce banquet on April 16.

Eating establishments like The Caboose have only been allowed to open at 50% with a 10 p.m. curfew since Jan. 11.

Amy Wendinger at Key Largo said last week’s announcement didn’t change things much at her business on Lake Shetek, since the capacity is maxed at 250. Wendinger, and the entire largo staff, are eagerly awaiting nicer weather so they can open up the doors and be outside, which is one of Largo’s main calling cards.

“We’re looking forward to being able to open up our outdoor dining as soon as it warms up, because there are no capacity limits on outdoor dining,” she said.

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