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Businesses near campus face increasing uncertainty during outbreak

Many businesses have limited their service to takeout and delivery, while some have closed altogether.
The neon signs of Annies Parlour in Dinkytown hang dark on Saturday, March 21.
Image by Kamaan Richards

The neon signs of Annie’s Parlour in Dinkytown hang dark on Saturday, March 21.

Many businesses near campus that once bustled with students now remain empty and dark with phones ringing unanswered and front sidewalks staying mostly untrodden.

Early last week, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey declared a local public emergency, requiring restaurants, coffee shops, bars and nightclubs to close, allowing them only to serve takeout. As strict policy measures attempt to clamp down on the spread of the new coronavirus, owners of businesses near the University of Minnesota face an uncertain future  — with many making decisions on a day-by-day basis.

“It’s certainly tough for the business owner to run a business and manage employees without having a clear idea about what’s going on,” said Wally Sakallah,owner of Dinkytown’s Hideaway and Wally’s Falafel and Hummus. “It’s tough. We don’t know what to do.”

After the Minneapolis declaration, Gov. Tim Walz followed suit later that day with similar restrictions across the state. 

Quick changes, quick decisions

Some businesses near campus, like Dinkytown Qdoba and both Starbucks locations, have closed completely for the time being. Others have stayed open for takeout and delivery only.

“Everybody’s worried but … we’re doing well, so [hoping] everything straightens back to normal life again,” said Daniel Lam, owner of Shuang Cheng, which has stayed open for take-out orders. 

Prior to the city public emergency, KBOP Korean Bistro owner Eric Nakamoto said he had seen sales slow as more people stayed in. Nakamoto said he would take time off if sales continued to dip. The bistro has since closed until further notice.

Randal Gast, owner of Dinkytown Qdoba, said he made the call on Friday morning to close the restaurant completely for the sake of his employees.

“It’s, as far as I’m concerned, irresponsible for us to remain open for the crew and for the customers in that town … We’ll just put it in mothballs. And when it’s ready to roll again, we’ll open back up, ready for business,” he said.

Other stores not yet ordered to close, like Dinkytown Wine and Spirits, have seen a surge in sales — even liquor that usually doesn’t sell.

“The students that are here are buying more than what they normally would,” said owner Irv Hershkovitz.

Community, state offers support

While some businesses have shut their doors, local and state initiatives are underway to aid them in dealing with the outbreak and its effects. 

The Road Map for the Future of Greater Dinkytown initiative, a partnership between the neighborhood, the Dinkytown Business Alliance, Preservice Historic Dinkytown and other stakeholders, is creating a team to respond to the situation. One of the team’s plans is to create an online listing of which businesses are open or closed to let the public know, said Kristen Eide-Tollefson, coordinator of Preserve Historic Dinkytown. 

“People who are still in their apartments will know how to get food from different places,” she said. “The thing that kind of triggered me into action … was reading memos from a couple of businesses who are projecting that reality that, you know, we’re going to go from this into a full-scale recession potentially.”

On Saturday, Walz announced that small businesses are eligible for disaster assistance for economic injury during the pandemic. Businesses that needed to restrict services were also given a 30-day sales tax grace period.

Uncertainty persists

For stores trying to navigate whether to stay open amid the chaos, the path forward remains unclear.

“Certain things will change and never be the same again. It always happens like that,” Qdoba’s Gast said. “There’s always winners and losers after these things.”

Gast plans to reevaluate his decision to close in about a month, he said.

Russom Solomon, owner of Red Sea restaurant and bar in Cedar-Riverside, said he has stayed open for takeout but is still worried about the future — and expects others to be as well.

As new policy decisions are announced, business owners say they can only wait to see what the future holds.

“Nobody knows what’s going [to happen] next, but we wish the best,” Shuang Cheng’s Lam said. 

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