ST. PAUL — At first, Louise Ott tried to source fabric for her latest project — a kind of shawl that a local museum plans to display in an exhibit on Norwegian-American inventors — from the Walmart nearest her home in Decorah, Iowa.
But nothing for sale there was of high enough quality, she said. So on Monday, May 18, she drove roughly three hours north to try her luck instead at Treadle Yard Goods in St. Paul's Summit Hill neighborhood.
She was far from the only shopper to visit the fabric and clothing store that morning, when retailers across Minnesota were first able to reopen following two months under the state's stay at home order. Owner Michele Hoagland said five customers had lined up at the front door before she even unlocked it for the day, eager to replenish their dwindling reserves of sewing materials.
"People who sew, creative people, they're working through the stashes that they have but wanting to sew more," Hoagland said. "Most of us have multiple projects going on at one time. If you work through all that, you have to get more."
Similar scenes played out across the state as business and social restrictions included in Gov. Tim Walz's stay at home order were lifted. Newer, more relaxed executive orders that took effect Monday allow for limited in-person shopping at retail stores, malls and businesses that sell, rent, maintain and repair goods.
The orders also took effect as the daily death total from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, dipped to the single digits for the first time in two weeks. The state Department of Health announced nine new COVID-19 deaths Monday, bringing the total to 731.
Despite that, department commissioner Jan Malcolm that afternoon cautioned Minnesotans to not let their guard down.
"We can't forget how important it is to keep six feet apart, and to wear masks when you are out of your house for any reason. We are going to be in this phase of staged reopening for quite a while," she said.
Roughly 37,000 workers in the state could return to work as a result of the order, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, although that only represents a fraction of the approximately 680,000 Minnesotans rendered jobless by the pandemic. Spokesperson Eric Lightner said Monday that the department was unsure of how many businesses will reopen this week.
"Just to be able to be open and let people come in without having my door locked is wonderful," said Kim Dietrich, owner of Quilter’s Jem in East Grand Forks.
Those that do open, however, are not necessarily returning to business as usual. Retailers are being asked to temporarily halve the number of customers they can admit at a time and some have posted signs advising patrons to don masks before entering.
Other efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 vary by store. At her shop in Minneapolis's Uptown neighborhood, Hannah Williams said she has temporarily put a halt to consignments and is thinking over new ways to source vintage clothes.
"We're kind of trying to restructure how we do things," she said.
Some small business owners said they still feel slighted by the fact that big box stores with more capacity were able to stay open even when the stay at home order was first put into effect. Others near the Minnesota border have expressed frustration at the perceived loss of business to neighboring states with looser restrictions.
"They could have trusted us," Mother’s record and clothing store owner Brady Bredell, of Moorhead, said Monday. "Small businesses, we’re living paycheck to paycheck."
Not every business reopened on Monday, with some planning to do so later this week or at another time. Widespread reports of business closures, meanwhile, continue to be published as owners reckon with revenue losses caused by the pandemic.
Many more business remain in hibernation until June 1, when restrictions on gyms, barbershops, bars and restaurants are expected to expire. State guidelines on how they can reopen safely is forthcoming.