WABASHA — Chris Larson said he thinks Gov. Tim Walz had a good point, ordering dine-in restaurants and bars closed through March 27.
"But many of these businesses are going to suffer," he said, drinking coffee after polishing off his breakfast at Eagle Valley Café in Wabasha.
Go to any small town in Minnesota and you'll find one – maybe two – local eateries, coffee shops or watering holes where locals gather, visitors drop in and folks make a living, contributing to the local economy.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, they're either closed or open for takeout and delivery orders.
Waiting tables while 8 1/2 months pregnant, Wabasha's Hailee Prigge was hoping to save as much money as she could before her daughter is born.
"But if we're just doing takeout orders, I probably won't make too much," she said.
It's not just the governor's closing of dine-in restaurants that's hurt her income, she said. Business had already been slowing down as the virus has made its way into Minnesota.
Lori Glomski, director of the Wabasha-Kellogg Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is trying to help restaurants by promoting those that will stay open for deliver and/or carry-out service.
As for serving customers now, "I think we're just going to funnel them in to the cash register," said Barbara Johnson, the cook and manager at Eagle Valley Café. "We can't give them cups or plates. We can't let them sit down."
Johnson said business Tuesday was slow because, after the governor's announcement, some customers thought the cutoff was effective Monday night.
Some regular customers were not thrilled about the forced closure of dine-in service.
"They were kind of surprised," she said. "A lot of older people don't cook, especially some of the men."
Larson, who grew up in town, said he likes to hit a local diner when he has a busy work day coming up.
"If I'm going to be doing lots of work, I'll come here and get my energy piled up," he said.
He comes to Eagle Valley Café two or three times a month. But he also frequents Beth's Twin Bluff Café in Nelson, Wis., or Stacy's Kitchen in downtown Wabasha.
A carpenter and handyman, the restaurants fuel him as well as his work. He'll talk to locals about who needs a remodeling job, or will pick up referrals from friends.
While the connections he makes could impact his business, he said, there are other ways for him to find jobs.
Glomski said it's more than just the business aspect of reduced interaction that concerns her. It's the way locals – particularly seniors – will miss out on the social interaction they get meeting up for coffee or breakfast as a normal part of their day.
She said she knows a group of women that meets most mornings at the Eagle's Nest Coffee Shop in Wabasha. Her own mother meets friends at the Town & Country Café in Kellogg. And a group of men meet every morning at Eagle Valley Café for coffee or breakfast.
"Her ladies who have coffee every morning are upset they can't just sit and catch up,"Glomski said about her mother. "That's what's going to be missing, and that's what's going to be lost. That's sad for those people."
Worse, said Prigge, whose daughter is due any day, is the uncertainty.
"It could go on for months," she said. "We don't really know."