BEMIDJI -- This week doesn't mean a full return to normal for business owners, but for many, it's a step closer.

On Monday, rules set in place by Gov. Tim Walz shifted, allowing retail stores and businesses that maintain, repair and sell goods to reopen. They were initially closed in March, as part of Walz's actions to slow the coronavirus spread.

In Bemidji, reopening has meant business owners have to change some of the ways they operate. Compass Rose owner Hannah Anderson, for example, said some of the sections added to enhance the shopping experience have been taken out.

"We've had to re-examine everything to make sure the health and safety of our customers is a No. 1 priority," Anderson said. "We've had to shut down our kids play area, we took out the couch and chairs for people to sit, and the Keurig for people to get coffee."

Anderson said her store has also ordered directional signage to help with distancing and their sanitizing efforts have increased.

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"It does feel really good to be open again, even though it's different," Anderson said. "We just want to make sure everyone feels comfortable. So, we're still offering curbside pickup as well as online ordering and shipping."

Dave Wagner, owner of Grandma's Attic Antique Mall, has also been pleased with welcoming patrons again.

"It's been wonderful to reopen," Wagner said. "I've been a little conflicted, because I don't want the (coronavirus case) numbers to increase, so there's that feeling, too. But otherwise, it's wonderful to see some vendors and regulars again."

As part of the reopening process, Wagner said staff is regularly wiping surfaces, wearing masks, using hand sanitizer and added Plexiglas in areas. The efforts come after a period of mostly just staying on standby to see what happens next.

"It had been pretty quiet," Wagner said. "There haven't been any state sales or auctions to buy items from. So, it's been a lot of waiting the situation out and watching the news develop."

A business that hasn't had to wait is Ken K. Thompson Jewelry, which is considered an essential financial service as it buys and sells gold for cash.

Like other businesses now open, the jewelry store's owner Dale Thompson said his business has made cleaning a top priority.

"Since we're a small business, we are able to keep six feet of distance, and we also have alcohol we immerse jewelry in when customers give it to us for a cleaning," Thompson said. "We also have hand washing procedures here in the store, and we sanitize the equipment we use for sizing people's rings and fingers."

As part of the recent order, Walz is requiring businesses to operate at 50% capacity. Businesses such as bars, restaurants and salons, though, are remaining closed. However, the Walz administration is working on a plan to reopen those types of businesses in June.

Downtown Bemidji was busy on Monday, the first day retail businesses were able to reopen to walk-in traffic in two months. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Downtown Bemidji was busy on Monday, the first day retail businesses were able to reopen to walk-in traffic in two months. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

For many eateries, like Keg N' Cork, that means continuing with takeout orders.

"We tried doing takeout initially in the first week, but it was just a bit tricky and it was new," said Keg N' Cork owner Tyler Winkka. "So, we stopped after the first week and shut down for a total of about 40 days. It allowed me and my dad to do a bunch of projects, clean, and try to make the best of it. Then, we were fortunate enough to get some loans that were going out, so we were able to get things up and running again."

Winkka said Keg N' Cork has been doing takeout for about three weeks now. With customers still wanting restaurant foods, Winkka said sales have been good, but overall sales are still down as a result of not having drink sales.

Those sales can potentially return in a few weeks, which has given Winkka a mixed feeling.

"I'm excited," Winkka said. "Even when we started up takeouts again, it felt good to be working and talking to customers, even over the phone. There's a part of me that's excited to have those normal interactions with our regulars. Getting our staff back, that will be good too, to have the camaraderie with people working."

On the other side of the situation, with the rules that will be applied, Winkka has some concerns as well.

"If a customer or employee were to catch the virus, it makes me a little nervous how that would go down," Winkka said. "We have some older regulars with conditions. If one of them were to die from it, and they got it here, that's of course a big worry."

As part of the preparation to keep its staff and customers safe, Winkka said he has ordered masks, but is also waiting to see what the state will require and recommend.