Local businesses ‘optimistic but cautious’ in choosing whether to re-open

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With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Clayton County on May 1, some local restaurants and retail shops (like Navy Rose and Co., pictured here) chose to allow customers inside on a limited basis, with precautions in place, while others opted to stick with carry outs and curbside pick-up.

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

“Optimistic but cautious.” According to McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ashley Kishman, that’s how most local restaurants and retail shops approached the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Clayton County beginning May 1.

“This is a new way of doing things,” Kishman said, “and businesses are putting in a lot of new practices to keep people safe.”

That includes limiting occupancy to 50 percent of capacity and implementing reasonable measures to ensure social distancing of employees and patrons, increased hygiene practices and other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

At restaurants, no group of customers seated together can be larger than six people. The restaurant must also ensure at least six feet of physical distance between each group or individual dining alone. No self service of food or beverages, including buffets or salad bars, is allowed.

Some restaurants are doing even more.

Owner Chelsea Armstrong said TD’s Sports Bar and Grill, in Elkader, is capping dining room seating at 40. In addition to group and distancing restrictions, sanitizer must be used upon entering and exiting.

“We’ll only be using paper products at this time,” she added, “and condiments will be available only upon request. They’ll be brought to your table and sanitized after each use.”

The front bar area will not be open but will be used for take-out. Delivery is still available.

As weather permits, guests in groups of six or less can use the patio to enjoy take-out orders at Schera’s, in Elkader. Meals must be ordered in advance during the restaurant’s pick-up hours (11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.) Diners must leave when they are finished eating.

The St. Olaf Tavern is following a similar procedure, restricting dining inside the establishment but allowing customers to eat carry-out orders on the patio. Diners must call ahead, and seating will be available on a first-come/first-serve basis.

Kari Waterman, owner of Backwoods Bar and Grill, admitted she was nervous about opening to in-house dining on Friday, but that it’s a financial necessity. Even so, the McGregor restaurant won’t open full time (11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday but 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.)

She’s worried about large groups following distancing rules, as well as having enough cleaning supplies. Food supply might also become an issue due to COVID-19 outbreaks at meat packing facilities.

“Now, getting beef and pork is becoming an issue,” Waterman said. “We’ll be open for a few weeks, but then we might be limited on what we can sell.”

Another McGregor eatery, Old Man River Restaurant and Brewery, reopened to in-house dining but is also limiting its hours to Friday through Sunday. Maggie’s Diner, located outside McGregor, welcomes dine-in customers or carry outs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, but its Wednesday through Friday promotional nights are takeout only.

Johnson’s, in Elkader, and McGregor Mexican restaurant Latino’s are open for limited seating and take-out, and McGregor’s Beer and Bratz Garden said it intends to open for the season this Thursday, May 7. 

MJ’s Bar and Grill, in Monona, is also welcoming people inside, but Matt Johanningmeier said customers must be respectful.

“Just because things are opening back up does not mean things are normal,” he said. “Everyone still needs to practice safe distancing.”

Many restaurants are continuing with carry outs only, citing concerns over health and the ability to safely implement the new guidelines.

“Due to the ongoing concern for the health of our staff and customers, we do not feel comfortable opening our doors,” noted the Marquette Bar and Cafe in a Facebook post. “We will be accessing the situation weekly. We are still open for carry-out service and hope to be able to serve you in person shortly.”

TJ’s Pizza, Elkader Pizzeria and Fennelly’s Irish Pub will continue doing take-out only as well.

“Our decision to keep our dining room closed was not made in haste,” said Fennelly’s owner Tim Finley in a Facebook post. “We want to provide a comfortable, safe and efficient atmosphere for our dining experience, and are currently planning ways to better and safely serve guests in the future.”

“As always,” he said, “we are a family business, so along with planning for the future of restaurant dining, we are doing our best to help our children get through the remainder of their school year. Many of you who have come in to get take out food in the last few weeks have seen our family space that we have created in the back of our pub. We use this space daily since our children are not physically in school but still need to do their schoolwork. As school gets over for the year, we will look into ways to adjust our dining room and reconsider our service style.”

Like the restaurants, retail establishments that were allowed to open Friday were split on what to do.

“A lot of retail shops are not open yet,” Kishman, the Mar-Mac Chamber Director, noted. “They’re digging into online and curbside pickup.”

That includes McGregor stores Rivertown Books, McGregor Mercantile, The Left Bank Shop and Gallery and Paper Moon. 

Louise and Jen White, the mother-daughter owners of Paper Moon, said they just don’t feel comfortable yet, and are worried about obtaining enough cleaning supplies and sanitizing the credit card terminal. When they open later in May, they plan to limit occupancy and ask customers to wear masks.

In Elkader, Clayton Drug, Sharp Gallery and G’s Closet and Gallery will also remain closed. Gov. Kim Reynolds has not relaxed restrictions on casinos, cinemas and salons, so those establishments are not open to the public at this time either.

Those retail shops that opted to open are taking serious precautions.

“We weren’t expecting to open this soon and it’s taken me a few days to get everything worked out,” said Kathy Josten, owner of Bridge Street Boutique and Gift. “But I’m willing to give it a try.” Josten asks shoppers to follow a few rules, which she’s posted on her door and her Facebook page, as well.

Josten’s store will be open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The first hour is reserved for people who are uncomfortable coming into a store that’s open to the public. Appointments are required. Shoppers under age 12 are discouraged from entering. Masks must be worn at all times and disinfectant must be used upon entering the store. Social distancing is encouraged and a limit of 10 people at a time in the shop will be enforced. No food or drink will be allowed.

“I know this sounds like a lot, but for the health and safety of everyone, we need to implement these new rules,” Josten said. “We want everyone to enjoy their shopping experience and feel safe in here.”

Turkey River Mall will be open weekdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The store will not allow customers under the age of 16 and is hopeful that shoppers from any of the 22 counties still “locked down” will wait until their county is cleared before shopping at the mall. All shoppers must wear masks, sanitize their hands upon entering the store and practice social distancing. The store will also limit the number of customers inside.

At Backstitch, which opened May 1 with limited hours (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), groups of no more than three people are permitted, and no more than 10 people will be allowed in the store at one time, including employees. In addition, nobody under age 16 will be permitted. Hand sanitizer must be used upon entering the store and masks must be worn at all times.

Nancy Krapfl, owner of Navy Rose and Co., in McGregor, isn’t requiring shoppers to wear face masks, but she does have them available. However, everyone must sanitize their hands upon entering the store. Speaking Sunday afternoon, she said business this past weekend had been steady.

“I was amazed at the amount of people. A lot were going to Pikes Peak,” she remarked.

Other retail businesses that have opened their doors include Sadie’s Sweet Shop, in McGregor, along with Archive, Copper Frog and the Elkader Floral Shop.

Elkader Floral Shop owner Janis Lerch said she will monitor the number of people in the shop at any given time, however.

“I realize people are still nervous about this, so I will continue to do curbside drop-off and, of course, delivery,” she said.

Eagles Landing Winery, in Marquette, will be open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Busy Saturdays, though, will be curbside pickup only, said owner Cindy Halvorson. There will also be no wine tasting, but wine can be sold in to-go cups.

“People are itching to get out,” she acknowledged, “but our concern is keeping people apart and limiting the number of people.”

No matter what a business decides, Kishman said its important to  be respectful and patient. 

“Our businesses rely on visitors,” she stated, “but we also want people to follow public health guidelines.”

Pam Reinig contributed to this article.

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