MILLVILLE — "It's been a brutal year," said Sara Evers.

Evers and her sister, Kay Briggs, own and operate Breakfast Barn, a restaurant in Millville that, like many businesses, has suffered due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday morning, Wabasha County Commissioner Brian Goihl hand-delivered a COVID-19 relief check to Evers and Briggs to help offset some of their losses.

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Need And Scope of Help

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Breakfast Barn is one of 44 Wabasha County businesses that will receive – or have already received – hand-delivered checks from the five commissioners in Wabasha County. Carolyn Holmsten, interim county administrator, said the money comes from a deal state legislators made last December. Based on its population and a few other factors, Wabasha County received just more than $426,000 to disperse to businesses located in the county, not having a state tax lien, and impacted by the governor's last executive order.

Kay Briggs and her sister Sara Evers on Friday, February 19, 2021, outside the Breakfast Barn in Millville. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Kay Briggs and her sister Sara Evers on Friday, February 19, 2021, outside the Breakfast Barn in Millville. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

"We advertised for applications, and the commissioners themselves went knocking on doors asking businesses to apply," Holmsten said.

In total, the county received 90 applications for about $889,000. But the commissioners focused on facilities shut down by the Nov. 20 executive order, including bars, restaurants and fitness facilities.

Who Was Hit Hardest

Goihl said Breakfast Barn is the kind of business the relief funds were designed for.

"You have two ladies trying to keep it going," he said. "Doing take out didn’t really work. Their doors were shut and they were able to open a little for outdoor dining. But we have these businesses where you can't open your doors, but you still have to pay taxes, you still have to pay your licensing fees."

Evers said she and her sister put off doing takeout orders because that was a niche filled by the restaurant Whisky Dicks just up the street. So the sisters shut down to remodel before doing takeout in May. By June, the county had helped by blocking off part of the street and sidewalk to allow outdoor dining, but the revenues still lagged behind previous years.

One of the hardest parts, Evers said, is not being able to stay open for regulars who rely on their small-town diner as a gathering place as well as a place to eat.

"We have ladies who come in every morning for coffee and breakfast," Evers said. "Then we also have a bunch of guys early in the morning, farmers or retired folks. Yeah, it’s impacted them a lot."

She said once the state allowed inside dining, there was a positivity in her regular patrons that showed how much they missed the communal aspect of a small-town diner. Plus, some of the older customers get their main meal of the day from her restaurant.

"If they’re not cooking at home, this could be their only meal," Evers said. "There’s a lot of concern for the older folks b-- are they eating?"

No One Catches The Bus

Mike Kennedy, who along with his wife Barbara owns Sugar Loaf Charter in Zumbro Falls, said that other than a few weddings in September, his businesses has been shut down since March 12.

The charter bus company does a lot of business with schools and colleges transporting folks to sporting events or cultural events in the Twin Cities, but when schools all went virtual, those accounts dried up.

"There’s just no place that any of those groups are going to," he said. "All of the places they go have been closed due to the virus."

Kennedy said was glad to receive a little more than $10,000 in the check Goihl handed him Friday.

Kennedy said he's been able to control some of his expenses. His insurance company took the liability coverage off his policies, which saved a lot of money. And his bank has allowed him to pay interest-only payments for the loans on his charter buses.

Still, based on his calendar and items canceled in 2020, he figures he missed out on about $250,000 in revenue. Plus, he said, there would have been other jobs to book as the school year progressed.

"What Brian Goihl is going to bring me, that’ll help immensely," Kennedy said, adding he's still got a ways to go before his business is back on the road. "I think it’ll probably be next school year before things open up really."