Local businesses react to Walz's order expanding curbside service
While some celebrate the decision, others say they'll still lose money if they offer curbside pickup.
When social distancing guidelines to help curb the spread of COVID-19 became clear, Bob Dobrow of Zenith Bookstore closed the interior of the Spirit Valley neighborhood bookstore he owns with his wife Angel and started ramping up online sales and offering curbside book pickup.
But curbside service stopped when Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued a stay-at-home order in March, baring many non-essential businesses from operating.
Since then, Dobrow has focused on online sales, which has seen "a very large increase" over the last month and a half, he said.
But Walz loosened some restrictions in a Thursday order so customer-facing stores, dry cleaners, pet groomers, those who rent or fix household goods and other non-critical retailers would have the option to reopen beginning Monday with new protocols if they could offer more delivery or to-go sale options.
Dobrow said that means they'll return to offering curbside book pickup on Monday.
"It's something we've been kind of hoping for and anticipating," Dobrow said.
Jan Sivertson, owner of Sivertson Gallery in Grand Marais and Siiviis in Canal Park, said she's excited by the announcement and will begin offering curbside pickup at her art galleries Monday.
"It feels really hopeful for one thing, and so that changes the feeling overall," And so I'm happy that (Walz has) done that and it's going to make a difference for us.
She's so hopeful, in fact, that she's bringing back her two Duluth employees next week and hiring a third. She brought back her Grand Marais employees last week.
The galleries have been closed since March's stay-at-home order, but online orders for original paintings and other works have continued to roll in. Now, she'll be able to get those delivered to her customers.
But not everyone is celebrating the order.
While the order allows for salons and barbershops to sell products with curbside pickup, the ban on services remains in place.
Adeline Wright, owner of Adeline Inc. salon in Duluth's East Hillside, said the sale of products only makes up 10% of a salon's revenue — and that's being generous.
"We'd be losing money just by opening the door," Wright said.
The business, which she runs with her daughter and husband, will remain closed until most restrictions are lifted, Wright said. Because they're on unemployment, trying to reopen would put that unemployment status in question, she added.
"It's a more complicated reality than I think these orders reflect, but I understand why," Wright said. "I just would encourage small business owners to think a little bit harder before they choose whether or not it's time to safely open their businesses and what was exactly the benefit is versus the risk."
Order provides some clarity
For Beth Sundberg, owner of Lester River Trading Co., an antique and homemade furniture and decor shop in Downtown Duluth, it's been a bit unclear whether or not she could offer curbside since the stay-at-home order went in effect in March.
She's opted to provide curbside pickups to customers because she sells some paint and hardware at her store, and paint and hardware stores have been exempt from Walz's stay-at-home order. Providing online sales and curbside pickup have helped her sell other, larger items too. During this time, she's "done some pretty good sales" on larger pieces of furniture.
Walz's order helps ensures she can continue that.
"It'll just probably be a little bit more legit ... it's always kind of like you're really not sure if you should be open or not," Sundberg said.
Emily Ekstrom, owner of Hucklebeary, a card and gift shop in Downtown Duluth, said Walz's order won't change much for her as she's been offering curbside pick-up for weeks.
"It gives us more clarification ... before, I didn't really know what I could or couldn't do," Ekstrom said.
Though the shop is closed for customers, Ekstrom has built an online store and is doing everything she can to sell product.
"I'm working three times as hard, but not even for a third of what I was making," Ekstrom said.