BEMIDJI -- After nearly two months of taking economic hits and seeing their stores empty, all in an effort to hold back the coronavirus, business owners are looking forward to opening their doors again next week.

On Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz announced that his order directing Minnesotans to stay home and closing several types of businesses would be expiring Monday, May 18. As that order expires, Walz said he was introducing a new executive order, labeled Stay Safe MN, which relaxed some rules and continued others.

As part of Walz's new order, Minnesotans are encouraged to still stay at home for the most part. However, gatherings of friends and family of 10 people or less are now allowed.

Additionally, starting Monday, retail stores, business that maintain, repair and sell goods can reopen. As part of reopening, those businesses are required to have a preparedness plan, encourage social distancing and operate at 50% capacity.

In downtown Bemidji, the owners of Patterson's Clothing are getting ready to open their doors again by formulating their preparedness plan.

"Thankfully, the state has provided a template, so we're using that as a starting point," said Molly Miller, co-owner of Patterson's Clothing. "We'll be screening our employees as they begin each shift and making sure they don't have any fever. If they do, they'll be asked to go home and contact a local health provider to talk about the next steps, and we'll work with them through that."

Miller said the company is also planning to have hand sanitizer available at each door, along with the registers, for customers and employees. Staff will also be wiping down surfaces regularly.

Patterson’s Clothing will have hand sanitizer at their registers and also at each door for customers to use when they open on Monday. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Patterson’s Clothing will have hand sanitizer at their registers and also at each door for customers to use when they open on Monday. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

When it comes to the clothes they sell, Miller said after someone tries on an item and doesn't buy it, the piece will be steamed before it goes back into stock.

"We've really thought deeply on how this is going to work," Miller said. "We're going to be wearing masks here. I'm pregnant, so I'm at a higher risk than some of the people coming in, so I'm hoping our customers will be wearing them as well. We're selling masks, too. We have our seamstress currently working away on masks."

Across town, the Paul Bunyan Mall is also going to be opening and similar precautions are being implemented. According to Paul Bunyan Mall National Property Manager Scot Snitker, there will be information posted for customers and employees will be wearing masks.

"They'll have their temperatures checked daily to make sure they're good to go. If they are showing any symptoms or a fever, they'll be required to stay home," Snitker said. "We'll be disinfecting the common area every hour at a minimum, especially the high contact areas like restrooms and vending machines."

Snitker said the mall will also close off seating, play areas for children and the massage chairs. Inside the individual stores themselves, the businesses operate independently, but communication has remained open.

"We're encouraging the stores to follow the CDC and follow those plans," Snitker said. "They are independent retailers, but I've spoken with their corporate offices and I've spoken with all of the local facility managers. They're aware of the protocols."

When the doors do open next week, while there will still be challenges, Miller said there's excitement to see patrons again.

"We miss all of our customers," Miller said. "We have customers who are friends, family, and people who feel like family. We're excited to see them back in the store."

To assist in drafting preparedness plans, the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce has set up a COVID-19 page on its website, bemidji.org. Along with materials for reopening, the website also has a business toolkit from Sanford Health to open safely.

According to a release from Walz's office, officials are considering reopening more businesses such as restaurants, bars and salons on June 1.