Frustration may have turned to relief for Timberjack Smokehouse and Saloon owner William Nemitz now that his staff members are returning from a voluntary closure after testing negative for COVID-19.

Nemitz voluntarily re-closed his Pequot Lakes establishment Wednesday, June 24, after a bartender tested positive for the coronavirus during a pre-surgical checkup. The doors will reopen Thursday, July 9. Nemitz has chosen to wait out the full incubation period of the virus to guarantee that no other employees are sick when they go back to work.

Test results for all other staff, and those customers who chose to get screened, came back clean by Monday, June 29. Nemitz had taken serious precautions to prevent spread in just such a case. The precautions may have paid off.

“I was one of the few that I'm proud to say, especially now, we were doing basically what the government protocols were,” Nemitz said. “We had extra sanitation. We were not wearing gloves because it's much safer to wash your hands. We were wearing masks and had social distancing in place as per the government guidelines.”

Before the positive test, Nemitz had been somewhat discouraged by some comments from patrons who felt like his caution was misguided. Some patrons indicated that other establishments were not following the same guidelines.

“We were receiving quite a bit of negative flak about it from customers claiming we were dumb and we were stupid and asking why we were doing this when everybody else is not,” Nemitz said.

Of course, that was before the bartender showed a positive test result.

“It's been a frustrating couple of weeks trying to do everything as the government has requested knowing that so many others are not and then ultimately being grateful and thankful that we did,” Nemitz said. “I believe it's fairly early but it appears perhaps our diligent efforts to follow these guidelines have limited this to perhaps no further exposure than the one known bartender.”

Nemitz announced the closure on Facebook on Wednesday, June 24, and recommended patrons in the bar Friday and Saturday, June 19-20, should self monitor for symptoms and contact their health providers for recommendations. There were some concerned patrons on the page who wanted more information, but there were also a few who thanked Nemitz in the comment section for the proactive and straightforward approach.

“Many will remember how hard your staff worked to keep everyone safe,” one wrote.

“Thanks for being responsible!” another wrote.

“They've been overwhelmingly supportive and thankful and grateful for our honesty,” Nemitz said. “That doesn't help financially, but it makes it better to know the community is supportive. The other option was to sweep it under the rug for the greed aspect of the dollar.”

He never considered that an option.

“I've been very surprised by the positive response we received in making this announcement, but I guess my understanding is we are still in the midst of a pandemic,” Nemitz said. “We felt it was our responsibility to let people know who may be concerned. I guess I didn't even really consider that I had an option to not tell anyone.”

Of course, this came at a high cost for a business that was closed for much of the spring by government regulations.

“We're not happy about it,” Nemitz said. “It can't do us any good. We want to get back to regular operations. I couldn't in good faith continue to operate at that time not knowing whether more than that known employee would be infected and therefore contributing or continuing to infect people.”

Fellow Pequot Lakes business owner Cindy Couture was among those encouraging Nemitz on Facebook.

“It appears that they are doing what's best and I hope that they are not judged for this in any way,” said Couture, owner of Salon Couture. “I personally feel comfortable going into any lakes area business because I also think it's our responsibility as customers to take care of ourselves too and not rely solely on the business to do it for us. I know how to keep my distance and wash my hands and I accept the risk involved.”

Couture has experienced some of the same critical feedback in her salon.

“I can relate to the mixed feelings from customers,” Couture said. “We have plenty who think that the protocols we are implementing at the salon are over the top and others who would say it's not enough. There is a very wide range of opinions on the topic and people aren't afraid to share them. As a licensed establishment, my business has no choice but to follow the guidelines and with the close proximity of our staff to the customer, it only makes sense to do so. I personally hate to see customers giving any business a hard time about how they are operating either way.”

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.