It definitely wasn’t business as usual as Minnesotans who had been staying at home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus were given the OK by the governor to go out.

Several local businesses in the Brainerd lakes area that were closed or only offered curbside service or takeout flung open their doors Monday, May 18, to the warm weather and welcomed back shoppers.

“You know a lot of stores are in the predicament where they need to unload a lot of things because they have been closed for two months, so people are excited about the sales, I think,” Christmas Point Wild Rice Co. Co-owner Jennifer Tihanyi said.

Christmas Point Wild Rice Co.’s three-story building along Highway 371, which opened in Baxter in 1999, temporarily closed its doors in March due to the coronavirus. It reopened Monday to eager shoppers looking for furniture, apparel, home décor and gifts, or something to eat.

“It was more successful than we thought it would be. I mean I think we tripled our sales goal. People were ready to come out,” Tihanyi said. “It was really great. … It’s been so wonderful to see our customers again.”

Back in business

Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday, May 13, more Minnesota businesses would be allowed to reopen Monday and the state's stay-at-home order would be lifted.

“We were doing some curbside pickup of gifts. We did some Mother’s Day gift baskets for people,” Tihanyi said of the time when Christmas Point’s doors were closed.

In order to reopen, Christmas Point had to come open with a COVID-19 preparedness plan to ensure the safety of its employees and its customers who are now allowed back into the building.

“We’ve increased all of the cleaning, the sanitizing. We’ve put marks for 6 feet, you know, for people to stay 6 feet apart,” Tihanyi said. “We can’t do any food sampling in the store anymore. The coffee bar is doing takeout only. We are not allowing people to dine-in anymore.”

Tihanyi said about 25% of those who entered the store this week wore masks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing them in public settings.

“We are encouraging our staff to wear masks and actually require several of them to do so, along with gloves, when handling food, fudge and truffles,” Tihanyi said.

Christmas Point has an extensive cleaning schedule for restrooms, door handles, shopping baskets, credit card keypads, computers, phones and more, as well as hand sanitizer stations at every register and clothes that people try on are set aside to be steamed to disinfect them.

“In general, people are just happy to be able to go shopping,” Tihanyi said. “We feel blessed to have such dedicated customers return to our store. I can't tell you how many people drove from hours away just to be at Christmas Point for our opening day.”

Back to normal

Arlene's Bridal and Tuxedo Shop is a familiar sight to those who shop the streets of downtown Brainerd.

Nancy Gates is the owner of the business on Laurel Street, which resumed storefront business hours Monday.

“I’ve been open by appointment. I was told I could do a little bit of that because people needed to come pick up their stuff, you know, for their wedding gowns that they paid for,” Gates said.

Gates said she has received a lot of phone calls but not a lot of stop-in traffic despite reopening.

“I am the only employee. ... I can’t afford to pay myself yet. It’ll be a while because this really hit me at a bad time because when it was spring — when prom season is out — when it's my best time to sell dresses and stuff, this kind of shot me in the foot,” Gates said of the pandemic.

The shop currently is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the week and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Gates said she takes the time to disinfect surfaces and social distances her customers.

“A lot of people I talked to think that we should have never closed down, that this corona, as serious as it is, is something that has already been here for quite a while, and that it’s just going to make its way through, whether we’re working or not working,” Gates said.

A group of Minnesota churches and small business owners that sued the state in federal court over the stay-at-home order said Monday it would file for a temporary restraining order to block enforcement around religious services.

“People are anxious to get life back to normal as much as we can,” Gates said. “That’s the feeling I’m getting from everybody I’ve talked to. A lot of them think that it’s time to get our economy in motion again.”

Back to work

The Chocolate Ox in Nisswa is a sentimental favorite for those with a sweet tooth. The ice cream and candy store on Main Street is popular with locals and tourists alike.

“It’s been hard on a lot of us up in this area. This is a big tourist area,” Manager Kelsey Bean said. “But for the most part, people are positive. Our customers are excited. They’ve been calling and sending us messages, constantly wanting to know when we’re opening.”

The Chocolate Ox operates seasonally. It closes annually at the beginning of January and normally reopens in mid-April but because of Walz’s executive orders will reopen Friday.

“All of our staff have face coverings as well as all customers will be required to wear face coverings. Gloves are also going to be worn by all staff members,” Bean said.

Hand sanitizer also will be available at the entrances and exits for store customers.

“We’ll also be monitoring how many people are in the store at the same time, and lots of sanitizing and cleaning that'll have to be done, especially, you know, with things like our patio furniture as people are out eating,” Bean said.

Bean said the traffic flow through the store has also been modified to encourage social distancing.

“We also have thermometers, so staff, when they check in every day before they clock in, has to take and record their temperature, so just lots of precautions to make sure that we’re being safe,” Bean said.

Tourism in Minnesota is a $16 billion industry adding over a billion dollars in sales tax revenues and providing over 11% of all private sector jobs, according to state officials, but tourism slowed to a crawl with the governor’s stay-at-home order and closure of businesses and restaurants.

“We’re hoping to bring some happiness to people. … We’re looking for some normalcy in our lives. People want to smile and feel like summer’s here, so we’re hoping that once we open our doors on Friday we can do that for customers and for our town of Nisswa as well,” Bean said.

FRANK LEE, county and features reporter, may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.