Stauber knocks state restrictions

by Tom Coombe

Opponents of Gov. Tim Walz’s restrictions on businesses have found a powerful ally in U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber.
Tuesday, Stauber spoke with numerous business owners and industry leaders and called on Walz to lift restrictions on bars, restaurants and other venues.
“To point to the obvious Minnesota needs to get back to an open and working economy,” said Stauber, who met via conference call in a session that also involved media representatives. “I’m going to continue to fight for a full reopening in the days to come. It’s time for our governor to level the playing field.”
Last week, Walz extended what started as a four-week “pause” that limited restaurants to takeout or delivery service and closed bars, gymnasiums, entertainment venues and other gathering places.
Walz tweaked some of the provisions effective Dec. 19, including opening gymnasiums to 25 percent capacity and allowing restaurants and bars to open outdoors.
But an array of business leaders told Stauber Tuesday the measures aren’t nearly enough.
“We are not going to make it,” said Cody Boyer, who manages a VFW club in Wadena. “He keeps pushing us back and pushing us back. You look at other states and they’re reopening.”
Walz and state officials have defended a second round of closures, which follow a nearly three-month shutdown in place during the spring.
The pause came amid a vast spike in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Minnesota, and public health officials said gathering places such as restaurants and bars create an environment ripe for COVID transmission.
But industry leaders have taken issue, pressing for more data to back up the claims and saying they’ve been unfairly targeted, particularly when major retailers have been able to operate without interruption.
An Iron Range business leader told Stauber that the latest shutdown has had a ripple affect on the economy.
This pandemic and the government restrictions have created major impact on individual businesses, but that impact is also felt across the wider community,” said Erik Holmstrom, chief executive officer of the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce, which serves Virginia, Eveleth, Gilbert and Mt. Iron.
“Here is a story about how this cascades across the community” said Holmstrom. “Right now the arenas are closed and the restaurants and bars are closed for indoor dining. This impacts them, but it also impacts main street businesses and our hotels. Visitors come for hockey tournaments or for vacation and they do stay in our hotels. Those hotels are still open. However, once people get here they can’t go to the bar, they can’t eat inside at a restaurant. There are no hockey tournaments at the Miners Complex. People won’t come if there is nothing for them to do.”
Holmstrom said business owners have gone to great lengths to follow guidelines and make safety adjustments.
“We need to trust them and allow them to open up in a safe manner,” said Holmstrom.
Nick Miller of Brainerd’s 3Cheers Hospitality said the pandemic has cost his business more than $1 million this year because of cancelled weddings and other events.
“We’re regulated, we’re clean, and we need an opportunity to open,” said Miller. “We can only pivot as much as we can pivot. We need the opportunity to be open.”
Susan Gillson, the owner of a Princeton gymnasium and health facility, said she struggled with new regulations including one requiring her customers to be masked while exercising.
“Wearing a mask during exercising is unhealthy and it’s hard to ask my members (to comply),” she said.
Stauber noted the passage of a federal stimulus package that may provide some support and said “Minnesota’s small businesses have proven they’re resilient. They’ve solidified my belief that Minnesota businesses are the best of the best.”
Yet Stauber said it’s time for government to do more for struggling businesses, from local levels up to the federal government.
“We need to trust them, support them and work with them to keep us safe and help them stay open,” said Stauber. “It doesn’t make sense to me that these big corporations are allowed to stay open, the Targets, the Lowe’s, the Home Depots,, when you as small business owners can’t.”
The current restrictions are set to expire Jan. 10, and Walz has not yet given any indication if he will extend them or let them expire.