LANESBORO -- If this were an ordinary Memorial Day weekend, this southeastern Minnesota town would currently be preparing to host a rollicking army of tourists, shoppers and out-of-towners.

This is not one of those holiday weekends.

Lanesboro, a community of 750 people, has been afflicted with the dead hand of the coronavirus virus and Gov. Tim Walz's efforts to contain the disease, just as other communities.

And while there are sporadic signs of an economic re-awakening as the governor dials back some restrictions, the local economy remains in a funk. Restaurants and bars are closed, lodges and inns are either shuttered or operating at reduced capacity, and foot traffic is down.

"You can just walk around town and see that it's just dead," said Jon Pieper, owner of the Old Village Hall Restaurant.

Jon Pieper, owner of Old Village Hall Restaurant, chops fresh asparagus while prepping food Friday, May 22, 2020, at the restaurant in Lanesboro. Pieper said they have been doing some takeout at the restaurant during Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order, and will open in June with limited outdoor seating following Gov. Tim Walz's guidance on the reopening of restaurants. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Jon Pieper, owner of Old Village Hall Restaurant, chops fresh asparagus while prepping food Friday, May 22, 2020, at the restaurant in Lanesboro. Pieper said they have been doing some takeout at the restaurant during Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order, and will open in June with limited outdoor seating following Gov. Tim Walz's guidance on the reopening of restaurants. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

But the dynamics here are somewhat different than in other communities: Tourism brings outside dollars and economic vigor, but it can also bring a migration of disease.

This is a community that relies on tourism and hospitality dollars, its small-town charm, bike paths and camping opportunities, arts and theaters drawing thousands of visitors annually.

But it is also one with a large percentage of elderly residents, a demographic most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Fillmore County, the county in which Lanesboro resides, has seen a tiny fraction of reported infections compared to other communities: 17 cases and one death.

Residents would like to keep it that way. Lanesboro leaders are wary that its destination status could make it a potential viral hotspot. The city draws shoppers and visitors from all over the region, including the Twin Cities, where the rate of infection and deaths is much higher.

Downtown Lanesboro on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Downtown Lanesboro on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

"Being an agricultural community that's embraced tourism as an economic driver for our town, that puts us in a precarious spot to have this balance between public safety and the vitality of the (economy) ," said Lanesboro Mayor Jason Resseman.

Interviews with Laneboro political and business leaders suggest a strong sentiment toward protecting the community, in following the guidelines issued by the governor and the CDC.

"I worry more about our community safety than I worry about Lanesboro coming back to life," said Louanne Hamann, co-owner of the High Court Pub in Lanesboro. "Lanesboro will be back. It's too delightful a little town. I worry about other little towns around that if their downtown whatever closes, it will never open up."

Yet disappointment and frustration are also evident from some business operators. Walz's decision to allow only outside bar and restaurant services means it will be difficult to cover expenses, said Pieper, owner of the Old Village Restaurant. Pieper was hoping Walz would at least allow eateries to operate at 25 percent capacity indoors.

"Everybody was ready to go June 1," he said. "A lot of people were just shocked that that's not going to happen."

Pieper said one of the biggest problems with the outdoor-only decree is the unpredictability of weather. What do you do if it starts raining and you have 50 people on a deck under open skies? You can't allow them into the restaurant, because that would violate social distancing.

"Obviously, whoever made the decision never operated a business before," Pieper said.

Pieper is also critical of what he calls the lack of leadership from St. Paul. The stay-at-home order and business closures were sold as necessary measures to buy time and allow hospitals to build capacity and stocks of personal protective equipment.

"There's been no guidance since the shutdown in March when anything can open," Pieper said. "We met the guidelines for ICU and stuff, so we're supposed to be opening. But obviously not. "

Laneboro's situation is not without a silver lining. While tourism dollars have plummeted, businesses and stores have been boosted by a significant uptick in local trade..

Lori Bakke, owner of Granny's Liquor, works on purchase orders Friday, May 22, 2020, at the liquor store in downtown Lanesboro. Bakke said that with the closure of bars that business at the liquor store increased during Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Lori Bakke, owner of Granny's Liquor, works on purchase orders Friday, May 22, 2020, at the liquor store in downtown Lanesboro. Bakke said that with the closure of bars that business at the liquor store increased during Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Lori Bakke, owner of Granny's Liquor, said her store has seen an influx of local shoppers. That's not surprising. More people are drinking at home because bars are closed. But the surge is happening at other Lanesboro businesses, such as The Bite restaurant.

"People are supporting local. They feel it's very important," Bakke said. "They want to keep their local economy thriving."

But local businesses have had to adapt and change, more mindful of what local people want. You couldn't get a pizza delivered in Laneboro before. Now you can.

"Moving here 13 years ago, we were finally able to get a pizza delivered to our door for the first time," Resseman said. "That was something that we kind of got enjoyment out of."

Scott Taylor, owner of Pedal Pushers Cafe, helps get their takeout window and counter set up before opening for the day Friday, May 22, 2020, in downtown Lanesboro. Taylor said they closed the restaurant at the start of Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order, and were on their third day of being open for takeout on Friday. Taylor said that the first couple of days were going better than they expected. "A lot of our regulars are like 'hey, we get to come back and eat again,'" he said about their takeout service. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Scott Taylor, owner of Pedal Pushers Cafe, helps get their takeout window and counter set up before opening for the day Friday, May 22, 2020, in downtown Lanesboro. Taylor said they closed the restaurant at the start of Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order, and were on their third day of being open for takeout on Friday. Taylor said that the first couple of days were going better than they expected. "A lot of our regulars are like 'hey, we get to come back and eat again,'" he said about their takeout service. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Some businesses owners say they would like to see the state's infection numbers go down before Laneboro returns to a business-as-normal mentality. On Friday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 33 more deaths and 813 more confirmed infections due to the coronavirus.

"We've been very fortunate down in Fillmore County. We don't have many cases, but there is a reason for that," Hamann said. "And people are like, 'we just got to open up.' And, boy, I get that, but it's not a choice we get to make."