Mendota Heights garden center shares changes Minnesota businesses face as they reopen

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One locally owned business understands what challenges the next round of companies face as they reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Lilydale Garden Center in Mendota Heights was allowed to reopen with other landscaping firms back on April 14. That's two full weeks before Gov. Tim Walz's stay at home order was set to expire on May 4.

Chris Harich said the timing was everything for his small shop located off Sibley Memorial Highway.

"This year our sales were down from last year by probably 90%, and you really don't make that up," he said.

Harich said he needed to open to survive. He knows it's make-or-break for the 20,000 other manufacturers, factories, agriculture, fishing and hunting firms green-lighted by the governor's latest executive order to reopen and said to expect challenges.

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"We've had quite a few employees who were hesitant to come into work, just to be in public again," Harich said.

Harich had to restart the hiring process for some positions. Erin Shirley was one of the candidates. 

The retail company where Shirley previously worked has yet to reopen, and she needed a job; she landed one at Lilydale Garden Center.

"I think it's nice to be able to work outdoors, you can keep 6 feet apart, it's nice to be outdoors and not in close quarters, we really don't have the threat a lot of other businesses do," Shirley said.

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Still, Harich had to implement new safety measures to reopen like one-way markings meant to keep shoppers moving in a single direction so folks feel safe enough to venture out.

"I think we have to be safe and cautious about things. It is a pandemic, and that brings concerns," said Carol Malnati of Mendota Heights.

Harich said he's been pleasantly surprised by the fresh faces stopping by since he opened. 

"We've had younger people wanting to do vegetable gardens, get started and work in yards, which we haven't seen in the last 10 years."