Restaurants, cafes and businesses open to a new look
Many Rochester-area businesses used the shutdown as an opportunity to speed up remodeling projects.
It was a day we thought would never come.
On the first day that Whistle Binkies in north Rochester opened for indoor service in three months, customers strolled into the old world pub and noticed something different: It didn't look so old.
During the three months of pandemic-induced downtime, the restaurant underwent a makeover. Floors were resealed. The bar was sanded down and refinished (for the first time in two decades). All the chairs were repainted.
"We pretty much gave a refresh to the whole restaurant," said Whistle Binkies' owner, Randy Lehman. "A lot of our staff worked really hard to get this done."
With mountains of free time on their hands, the owners of restaurants, bars and other organizations were given a choice: Roll over and go completely dark, or use the time to refurbish, refresh and renew.
Many opted for the latter, figuring it was a better use of their time and staff they kept employed. Renovation projects long on the drawing board were dusted off. Projects that would have taken months, if not years, while juggling business hours were finished in record time.
The result: Rochester-area cafes and bars on Wednesday presented patrons with redecorated and redesigned interiors. Bookstores like Barnes & Nobles showed off redesigned floors. Schools and recreation centers got a jump on renovation projects.
For many patrons, returning to their favorite haunts in what seemed like an eternity, the day was not just a long-awaited step toward healthy normalcy. It was a chance to take in and see what businesses had done with their places.
Dunn Brothers Coffee in north Rochester, for example, adopted and unveiled a new diner-style food menu with a new interior color scheme to match, exchanging browns and earth tones for blue. The remodel also included new furniture and decor. Framed vintage photographs of old diners and cafes that used to line Broadway hang from the walls.
Tables are appropriately spaced to maintain social distancing in accordance with Olmsted County Health Department and Dunn Brothers guidelines.
"We had planned on doing (the remodeling) sometime this year, but when (the pandemic) happened, we just kind of decided to do it during the shutdown," said Dennis Wong, who, along with his wife, Lynn, own three Dunn Brothers locations in Rochester. "I'm biased. I think it looks good."
Wong said the freedom to open the cafes to indoor service was a big step toward a return to normalcy. Before the shutdown, the three stores employed 40 people. But that number dropped to eight in the aftermath of Gov. Tim Walz's emergency decree. Wong said he's bringing people back to work and employs 20 to 25 now.
"It's a gradual comeback," he said.
Trish Marin, manager of Barnes & Noble in the Apache Mall, said plans to remodel the store accelerated during the COVID-19 shutdown.
When the store reopened last week, patrons were treated to a new look and feel. Instead of long, horizontal lines of books shelves, browsers flipped through books in more open, U-shaped layouts. The result is a more spacious yet cozier place, Marin said.
Along with the refresh, Barnes & Noble adapted to social distancing requirements in other ways. It launched a cafe app so customers can order ahead and grab their drinks to go. It also implemented curbside pick-up for books ordered online.
"Just like any business, we're learning how to adapt with the changes that are happening," Marin said. "It's a new way for our customers to shop."