A group of over 150 Minnesota businesses, called the ReOpen Minnesota Coalition, is planning to reopen this week in defiance of potential COVID-19 restrictions, if they are extended.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, issued a “dial back” order (pdf) on Nov. 20, due to expire on Friday but which Walz has signaled he plans to renew on Wednesday. Under the order, all bars and restaurants in Minnesota were forced to shut down indoor and outdoor dining service and provide takeout or delivery only, and gyms were closed.
Darius Teichroew, who founded the ReOpen Minnesota Coalition, told CBS that the aim of the loose-knit group is “to provide a little bit of peace and prosperity to these owners and their desperate employees as we approach Christmas.”
“At the end of the day, people just want to feed their families, care for their employees, provide for their communities,” Teichroew told the outlet.
Under the group’s initiative, local businesses are encouraged to “join the cause and commit to opening” by pledging to operate in spite of a possible extension of the lockdown order.
“Fill out this form to indicate that you will no longer allow our governor to strangle your ability and God-given right to care for your own family and community,” a note on the pledge form states. “If you are willing, your business will be included in the list of open businesses to be released the evening before your chosen opening day (Dec. 16 or Dec. 18).”
On the group’s Facebook page, an explanatory statement notes that “these businesses represent not some money-hungry owners looking to swim in pools of gold, but rather people who have spent their lives risking so much to accomplish their dreams, employees struggling to put food on the table and a roof over their heads just as Christmas arrives, and so many other suffering Minnesotans.”
The coalition encourages patronage of these businesses, calling on customers to “go give them business, tip well, and continue supporting them in the coming weeks.”
Businesses that are part of the coalition plan to operate with “reasonable restrictions,” like wearing masks and running at reduced capacity, CBS reported.
Under Walz’s lockdown order, business owners found to be in violation of its stipulations could face fines or even jail time.
The state has already taken action against a restaurant for defying Walz’s order, with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison saying in a statement on Dec. 11 that a district court granted a temporary restraining order to prohibit an East Grand Forks bar and restaurant from operating.
Ellison hinted in a statement to the Star Tribune on Monday that businesses that reopen in defiance of the order could face enforcement actions.
“I get no happiness out of enforcing the order, but my duty to protect Minnesotans from the deadliest global pandemic in a century demands it,” he said.
“It’s not fair to the vast majority of businesses who are doing their part to stop the spread of COVID-19 and are complying with the executive order to let a handful who chose not to compete unfairly with them,” Ellison added.
Teddy Tschann, a spokesman for Walz, told the outlet in a statement that “the overwhelming majority of restaurants and bars in Minnesota are doing their part to keep Minnesotans safe during this historic pandemic,” and that Walz has taken steps to “to provide these businesses with immediate financial relief.”
The coalition called Walz’s order “arbitrary,” and claimed that “the state’s own data DOES NOT support any of the current lockdown.”
“For those who want to say that these businesses are putting others at risk… we challenge you to show us from any science and data that the risk of going to a bar, or working out at a gym, or bowling 10 frames, or teaching a small dance class is any more dangerous than going to Walmart, walking through a crowded MOA, or spending two hours in a busy supermarket,” the group said in a statement.
“On Dec. 16 and 18, Minnesota reopens for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the coalition said in a note on a GoFundMe campaign page, adding that participating business owners “know there is a potential that some of them will face legal backlash from the tyrannical leadership of the state.”
Some local hospitality businesses are opposed to actions that defy the restrictions.
Richard Dobransky, president of Morrissey Hospitality in St. Paul, which owns 11 restaurants, three hotels, and two event centers, told the Star Tribune that he believes it’s better to stay closed until the threat of virus transmission is reduced.
“Why risk your license for short-term gain? So they make $400 in two days and then they have to close forever?” he said.
“We’ve all been hurt tremendously,” he added. “Let’s hunker down and reopen the best way.”