They will cite the unique vulnerability of Crookston businesses being so close to Grand Forks, which never entirely shut down, in encouraging the governor to speed up the responsible reopening of businesses.
The Crookston City Council is going to send a letter to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz encouraging him to continue efforts to reopen the state in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic after almost two months of a stay-at-home order. But, specifically, the local council is going to focus the contents of the letter on the Crookston business community, which it agrees is especially vulnerable and at risk of several permanent closures because North Dakota and all of the restaurants, bars and stores that never entirely closed down is less than a half-hour drive away.
The council made its decision near the end of its Ways & Means Committee meeting Monday night. Earlier in the evening, at their regular council meeting, Crookston Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terri Heggie addressed the council and Mayor Dale Stainbrook during the public forum that opens the meeting. Heggie was joined by a half-dozen local small business owners in the audience, most of them hair stylists and hair salon owners, which still are prohibited from serving their clients and, according to Heggie, are having a hard time getting any financial assistance.
Heggie noted that, last week, the Crookston Chamber joined around 70 other chambers of commerce in other Minnesota cities in encouraging Walz to continue to allow Minnesota businesses to reopen.
“You drive down the barren streets of Crookston and wonder when things will return to normal, or what the new normal will look like,” Heggie said. “It sounds cliche and it’s easy to say that we’re no different than other cities, but we are different. We are 20 minutes from North Dakota, which never completely closed all of its doors.”
Stainbrook noted that a couple other city councils and/or mayors in other counties in northwest Minnesota have sent or are planning to send similar letters to the governor. But the mayor also noted that those counties have far fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19 than Polk County. Still, Stainbrook was supportive of drafting a letter and sending it to St. Paul.
The feeling among council members who spoke is that local business owners will be responsible and use common sense when it comes to social distancing and other public health and safety measures if they’re given the green light to reopen, or reopen to the level where they’re permitted to have customers inside their establishments.
Ward 6 Council Member Dylane Klatt mentioned that he ate at a Grand Forks restaurant the other day and while there he took note of the properly distanced tables and other measures taken, such as the use of ketchup packets instead of ketchup bottles. “It’s up to our businesses, it’s their responsibility,” Klatt said. “Like (Heggie) said, our dollars are going to Grand Forks.”
Ward 2 Council Member Steve Erickson, whose business, Erickson Embroidery/2nd St. Boutique, has been shuttered since mid-March - other than making face masks - said he’s confident small business owners in Crookston, if given the opportunity, would reopen with staff and customer safety in mind. “Small businesses are resilient and will open up smartly,” he said.
Council members and Stainbrook stressed that all they can do is draft a letter; the council itself lacks the authority, or at least the will, it would appear, to attempt to defy the governor’s executive order.
Ward 4 Council Member Don Cavalier made the motion to draft the letter, and At Large Council Member Bobby Baird seconded it. The vote was unanimous. Interim City Administrator Angel Weasner said she’ll get started on it immediately.