Updated: April 30, 2020 10:53 PM
Created: April 30, 2020 10:44 PM
The sign posted outside the Grand Jete dancewear store says "closed."
"It is a niche market but a very small niche," says owner Ruthena Fink. "Grand Avenue is not as busy as it often is."
For nearly six weeks now, Fink has looked outside her front window, wondering if she'd ever reopen.
"To see movement, to see something positive," she says. "Seems like in the news these days, there's been so much negativity."
But on a break, Fink went home to watch Gov. Tim Walz's latest press conference on COVID-19. The news for her was good.
"We're working toward a reopening of stores," Bruce Nusted, the president of the Minnesota Retailers Association told reporters. "This is like putting retail in the final game of the playoffs. This is a chance to get your game plan down really good."
The announcement means that 10,000 to 15,000 Minnesota retailers now have the go-ahead to reopen on May 4.
Many are small specialty businesses: vintage stores, music vendors, memorabilia shops, clothing and shoe stores. There are restrictions — retailers can operate, but only using curbside service or delivery.
Fink's store is among those allowed to reopen.
"I'm happy right now," Fink said. "I'll take more whenever it can come."
It has not been an easy time for Fink and her six employees. Business is down by 70%, she says.
She's been keeping the store going with online and mail-order purchases.
Starting Monday, customers will be allowed to call ahead. None are allowed inside the store, however. Instead, they pull up to a back parking lot, and an employee brings out their items. Purchases can only be made on credit cards.
It's a new approach for a business that's been around for 36 years.
"I understand the doors can't just be swung open right away," Fink said. "But this is the first step to be able to connect with our customers again."
The new policy means about 30,000 Minnesotans will be getting back to work.
Commerce and COVID-19 safety are a delicate balance.
"We take very seriously health and safety," Nusted said. "Every interaction with a customer today is done with the thought of, 'How is this going to be safely done and gives the customer what they need?'"
Fink says she's hoping for the next step soon.
"I have ordered a plexiglass shield, I've ordered some gloves, I've ordered some masks," she said.
Fink says her client base is in the thousands, with some shoppers driving for hours from Wisconsin and the Dakotas.
She emphasizes if and when shoppers are allowed back inside, they'll be required to enter through the front door and exit out the back. Mask-wearing and social distancing will be compulsory.
But for now, Fink says, just reopening and seeing her customers and employees again is enough.
"They will come back, but that is a matter of time," she says. "We just have to be patient and work hard."
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