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Editorial: Business owners will need leeway, unique ideas to survive coronasummer

Lead Summary

It’s far too early to determine the impact the coronavirus will have on Ely’s economy - except to say it is widespread and severe.
Some businesses have been shuttered for weeks while others have had to adjust on the fly to a new and hopefully very temporary reality.
One would be hard-pressed to find any business in the Ely area that hasn’t been hurt in one way or another by several weeks of stay-at-home shutdown.
We fear the worst may be yet to come, with the coronavirus continuing to hover like an ominous storm cloud over Ely, which relies so heavily on visitor traffic from May through September in order to survive.
Cash registers don’t ring when the sidewalks are empty, events are called off and travel is restricted or merely discouraged. The ripple effects are disastrous: fewer jobs and business owners struggling to keep their doors open.
The future is precarious at best and programs that help businesses meet payroll and extend unemployment benefits are merely stopgaps and not a permanent solution.
We’re hopeful that better times are ahead and believe now is the time, more so than any in recent history, where local governments can serve as an ally rather than an obstacle for our business community.
The city can’t help business owners make payroll, but it certainly could take some simple steps to help them navigate the treacherous waters 2020 has delivered.
We’ve already seen an influx of visitor traffic to the region and expect that will continue, and grow, as stay-at-home restrictions are eased and lifted.
Other communities that rely heavily on tourism are seeing this as well and we were intrigued this week by measures being taken in Duluth.
There, officials are rolling back regulations to give businesses extra leeway to use sidewalks and private parking lots.
According to the StarTribune, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson is asking Duluth’s City Council to approve a measure that will waive fees and “accelerate certain review processes to enable restaurants and retailers to get creative as they mull how to sustain business in a way that’s safe for customers.”
A leading tourism official said the move highlights a “willingness to be flexible and supportive at a time when our businesses need it the most.”
Proprietors there are still hoping to see visitors taking trips to Duluth and we anticipate the same holds true in Ely.
In Duluth, they are looking at expanded outdoor dining, including use of sidewalks and parking lots, to better accommodate customers and make things easier for social distancing.
Retailers there are also looking to expand their operations to sidewalks, and this could be a fix in Ely as well for bar owners, who have been closed completely for almost two months.
In Duluth, the city is exploring a change in city code through the end of the year.
Something similar could certainly be done in Ely and we expect a city council that has prided itself on economic development and being friendly to business would quickly follow suit.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and creative and previously unexplored means may be needed to keep our business community intact. There’s no time to waste.

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