Business owners share concerns as restaurant and bar restrictions go into effect

With the Gophers football team playing their game at TCF Bank Stadium, Dinkytown businesses would normally brace for a big night.

“When the game gets over around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m., that’s really when we would expect a lot of traffic coming in and it would be great around campus,” said Mike Mulrooney, owner of Blarney Pub and Grill. “That entire amount of business that we would’ve received after a football game today is just gone, it’s wiped out.”

This week, Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order, closing bars and restaurants early. Those businesses must stop dine-in service from 10:00 pm. to 4:00 a.m. Indoor capacity is capped at 50 percent, not exceeding 150 people.

The bar counter is also closed for seating and service, except at those places that only have counter service.

“I’m frustrated,” said Mulrooney. “In Dinkytown, about 80 percent of our business comes after 10 p.m. at night, that revenue helps support the rest of the day.”

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In the executive order, Walz said more than 221 total outbreaks have been connected to bars and restaurants since the pandemic began.

“The vast majority of these establishments are doing the best they can,” Walz said. “The problem with restaurants and bars is it’s absolutely the worst environment in a pandemic that is spread by aerosol by people who are in close contact with one another.”

State officials are concerned about the spread among 18 to 35 year olds. The Minnesota Department of Health reported on Friday that a 21-year-old, with no underlying health conditions, has now died of COVID-19.

“If we’re going to beat this thing now is the time,” Walz said. “There is potential to do this. We know that every day that we get closer to a vaccine is one more day we can fight this thing through and bring more people with us. We’re waiting for that day but until it becomes available we have got to do this right.”

The governor is asking Minnesotans to be patient as the new restrictions go into effect.

“If we stopped all infections … and we reported zero in new infections tomorrow, that’s not going to change what’s happening in the hospitals in the next three weeks,” he said. “Tomorrow and Sunday and Monday when I report cases going up, people are going to say ‘Well that didn’t work, that shutting the bars down didn’t work. I think people need to wrap their mind around this lag time is built-in.”

Mulrooney told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he made changes on Friday in response to the regulations, including limiting the crowd to 21 and older to reduce the line outside of the restaurant. Unsure of when they would get busy, he said they also brought in security about four hours earlier than normal to help control behavior inside.

“Closing at 10, does that mean we’re going to get busy earlier?” he said.

Mulrooney doesn’t think the executive order will deter late-night gatherings.

“People are going somewhere else,” he said. “They may not come to Blarney Pub and Grill or any of the other bars on campus, or any of the other restaurants downtown, but they’re going to go somewhere else and they’re going to gather somewhere else.”

He feels a more wide-spread approach may be needed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“I know that as a community we have to get this virus under control, I just think that doing a targeted approach that’s penalizing a small amount of businesses is not the proper approach,” he said. “If we went at it very hard, a two week solid lockdown then possibly we could get control of this and we could beat it down enough that we could move forward.”

Those who violate the executive order can face a fine or jail time. Walz responded to questions Friday about how it will be enforced.

“This has been a real challenge in this, I never want too fine anyone on this,” he said. “What ends up happening when we fine, is people dig in. To be candid be candid with you on this, I just need folks to do this, I mean people don’t need statues to have them not assault their neighbors.”