COVID-19 - Small businesses: ‘It’s all personal’

Local restaurants are adjusting to the Stay at Home order while other businesses are considering how to reopen under Governor Walz’s most recent guidelines.

More and more customers are heeding the warnings and wearing masks in stores. Here, Doug Flicker purchases items from Assistant Manager Colleen Burke at the East Lake Ace Hardware. Workers wipe down the counter, card machines and barriers after customer purchases. (Photo by Terry Faust)

Hi-Lo Diner (4020 E. Lake St.) closed the Sunday night before the government shutdown of restaurants. It was a hard decision, but co-owners James Brown and Mike Smith were worried about the safety of their staff members and wanted to take some time to evaluate things.

Thanks to a PPP loan, the diner reopened for take-out last weekend, starting with dinner on Saturday, April 25. “We had 32 employees before the pandemic and will be able to bring a lot of them back on,” stated Brown.

They are excited to be reopening, even if it is just for take-out, and Brown pointed out it is a huge help to be able to offer beer and wine to-go. They plan to also offer Bloody Mary and mimosa kits, in addition to brunch Saturdays and Sundays.

“I think the future of small business – and specifically restaurants – is to make it personal,” observed Brown. “Small businesses give our community a third place, not home or work, but it is a part of the community. We are swiping left on ‘It’s just business, it's not personal;’ it is all totally personal, and that is how we can make it through this.”

Brown is concerned for the undocumented workers in America right now. “They can’t get unemployment, or federal stimulus money, It’s really hard for them during this time,” he said.

Hi-Lo will be open Thursday and Friday 4-8 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-8 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “The best way to support us is to call in and order food," he said.

Fun City Dogs reopens for 10th anniversary

Fun City Dogs (2200 E. 25th St.) will reopen this week, just in time for its 10th anniversary on May 1, although its big party has been put on hold.

The doggy day care temporarily closed on March 23, 2020, when they had no boarders for the first time in five years. “Our daycare numbers had dropped significantly with people working from home,” explained owner RyAnne Quirk. “My mother, 83 years, lives in my house and I was very concerned about bringing home the virus. We were all worried about getting sick. It seemed right to close for a few weeks and help flatten the curve.”

Most of the other doggy day care operations in the Twin Cities remained open. Fun City Dogs sold dog food online with home delivery in the neighborhood.

A day after Governor Walz’s new guidelines were released, Quirk was busy planning safety protocols. “There will be a gated area outside our front door for dog drop offs. That way the customers and employees will have limited contact. The customer will remove the collar and leash, again to limit contact. The staff will then open the front door and bring the dog into the center. Going home will operate the same way; the customer will call for pick up, we will bring the dog to the front gate and the customer will put on the leash and collar to go home.

“Inside, the staff will have masks and continue our normal cleaning regimen. We already clean, sanitize and have air purifiers set up to combat canine parvovirus.”

She added, “I feel like now is a good time to reopen.”

34th Ave. businesses band together

Nokomis Tattoo owner Mike Welch has banded together with other 34th Ave. business owners as they are not only dealing with COVID-19 related closures, but also road construction for the second summer.

The group released a promotional video, and started a new Instagram account (34thAveNEBA). Six business take turns posting photos and information, including Paddlesculpt, Berrysweet Kitchen, Grand Sunrise Mexican Restaurant, The Workshop,Replace and Nokomis Tattoo.

Welsh, who also serves on the board of the Nokomis East Business Association and the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association, closed his tattoo shop on Tuesday, March 17. He’s grateful for his wife’s teaching position with the Mounds View School District as his business income has taken a hit. He is doing some pet portraits on commission, and is thankful for a supportive clientele.

“This is completely uncharted territory for my business plan,” he said.

Welsh pointed out that the biggest worry for businesses along 34th Ave. is rent payments. ”None of us have extra money,” he said. “It’s a very scary time.”

He encouraged residents, “Reach out to businesses and find out how you can support them.”

The group has also released a new Nokomis t-shirt designed by Jeffrey K. Johnson from Replace, and all the profits go to a business of choice. Shirts are American-made and cost $25-$28. Pre-orders end May 8.

WRBA focuses on helping neighborhood businesses

The WRBA (West of the Rail Business Association) is focusing its efforts on offering programs free of charge that will be helpful for local, small businesses right now, and has put its other initiatives on pause. “We have capacity to help our community now, and we believe that is the right thing to do,” said WRBA and Standish Ericsson Neighborhood Association Program Director Emerson Sample, who started in July 2019.

He observed, “Our team is distancing from each other, which has made communication and getting things done harder. Now some of our best conversations are around how to re-define success for a day at work, and what things we can do to have a positive impact as quickly as possible.”

WRBA is focusing on sharing information through social media and other online options. Sample said he has two goals: to let as many businesses as possible know about the resources out there for them, and to help people know how to stay connected in the community by supporting area businesses.

“The WRBA has not officially re-launched yet, so it feels like trying to jump start a car while you’re rolling down a big hill.,” said Sample. “I’ve accepted that this is a powerful virus that we have to respond to, that we don’t have the tools to tell it what to do. I’m just trying to control what I can and play my role to the best of my ability to flatten the curve, and help people come out on the other side in as good of shape as possible.”

Messenger offers free listings on What’s Open page

The Longfellow Nokomis Messenger has added a free self-serve What’s Open page to its web site to help businesses connect with community members. Go to and click on What’s Open.

After creating a free account, businesses can quickly post their current hours, what they’re offering, and contact information, and then update the listing as needed.


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