Family-owned St. Paul pottery business holds off on opening, others following suit

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A recent executive order from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz allowed tens of thousands of Minnesotans the ability to return to their jobs on Monday if their employer met certain criteria and had a safety plan in place to curb the spread of COVID-19

State officials estimated around 20,000 businesses were eligible to reopen in certain industries that did not have face-to-face contact with customers, which meant upwards of 100,000 workers could return.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development had no official data if those companies opened since there was no requirement to notify the state or submit any coronavirus safety plans.

"It didn’t make any sense for us to rush in,” said Niles Deneen, president and CEO of Deneen Pottery in St. Paul. “Just better to take it slow and more purposeful."

For nearly 50 years, Deneen Pottery has been run by the same family making hand-thrown mugs and stoneware.

The family-owned business now employs nearly 90 people that work in their 17,000 square foot studio space.

Thousands of Minnesota workers have option to return to work Monday

But the company chose not to open Monday, Deneen said, to make sure they can get more guidance from officials on what’s required, including more clarification on specific personal protective gear for staff.

"We need to make sure that we’re concrete with what protocols and procedures that we have in place, to do that we need to make sure we have the right information from the top,” Deneen said.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spoke with St. Paul’s Midway Chamber of Commerce to see what they had heard from members that were eligible to reopen on Monday.

"A lot of them weren’t expecting they’d be able to go back until at least May 4 when the ‘stay at home’ order ended,” Executive Director Chad Kulas said.

At Deneen Pottery, the company said that all its employees will not be able to return to work at the same time due to the state’s social distancing requirements.

"Which is why it’s a tough decision that we have to make over the next week to finalize the roster," said Niles Deneen.

Deneen said a few days of extra revenue isn’t worth it because the health of the company’s employees is key to its long-term success.

"Make sure we stay safe,” Deneen said. “So I think taking a little time to do it right is the best way forward."