PINE RIVER — The Minnesota Department of Health announced Monday, Dec. 28, it issued a cease-and-desist order and notices of license suspension to Long Pine Store and Pizza north of Pine River after determining it violated an executive order intended to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Gov. Tim Walz issued Executive Order 20-99 in mid-November prohibiting bars and restaurants from offering on-premises dining amid a rapid acceleration in cases and hospitalizations. That order was modified earlier this month to permit outdoor dining at 50% capacity, but indoor dining remains closed to the public.
On Dec. 18, the health department inspected Long Pine Store in Pine River. During the inspection, staff found the establishment was open for on-premises consumption of beverages in violation of the executive order. A cease-and-desist order and license suspension notice were served on Thursday, Dec. 24.
According to Minnesota Department of Health Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff, enforcement actions are a last resort when it is clear education and outreach are not sufficient to help a regulated establishment come into compliance with requirements, a news release stated.
“COVID-19 protocols are designed to slow the spread of this virus and reduce the impacts of this pandemic,” Huff stated in the release. “Our preference is always to work with businesses to bring them into compliance, and we consider regulatory actions as a last resort. The vast majority of businesses are doing their best to help slow down the spread of COVID-19, and we owe it to them to have a consistent and fair enforcement approach.”
Also issued was a cease-and-desist order and license suspension notice to Jamieson’s on Main in Oslo, Minnesota — a city in the northwestern portion of the state located along the North Dakota border. On Dec. 21, the health department inspected that establishment and found it was open for on-premises consumption of food in violation of the order. The order and suspension notice were served on Saturday.
Jennifer Swiggart, the proprietor of Long Pine Store, was one of the dozens of business owners who signed on to an initiative pushed by the Reopen Minnesota Coalition to defy Walz’s order and reopen for indoor dining. Swiggart said during a Dec. 16 interview she’s in a financial position to follow the mandate but said her decision to disregard the executive order was a matter of standing up for other small businesses and constitutional rights.
Swiggart said her business would continue to practice social distancing, seating people in separated areas, and encourage mask use when necessary. She noted she hoped more small businesses would band together as a unified block to protest the executive order.
“So many businesses are in need of help right now. There’s a lot of businesses that are not open at all, so I’m hoping they help them out a little bit, get them back on their feet,” Swiggart said during a Dec. 16 phone interview. “This is a moral stand for the Constitution. (The executive order) is not right. It’s just not right. We aren’t doing it out of selfishness, we’re doing it out of being able to pay our bills. Our bills don’t quit coming because we’re closed.”
Swiggart has since organized a GoFundMe fundraising campaign in response to the regulatory action, seeking to raise $15,000 to address legal bills and possible fines, according to the campaign description.
“We at the, Long Pine Store feel the rights of businesses have been taken illegally from us by our government. We believe in free market rights, and individual rights for freedom. We have been harassed by the MDH,” the fundraising page stated.
A person who answered the phone at Long Pine Store Monday night said Swiggart was unavailable to take calls.
The Long Pine Store is the third business in the area against which the Minnesota Department of Health announced regulatory actions. Also facing a looming license suspension is Mission Tavern in Mission Township for serving patrons indoors. The license of another business, Iron Waffle Coffee Co. in Lake Shore, was indefinitely suspended following repeated violations, the health department reported. The owners of both businesses reported they're contemplating legal response to the state's regulatory actions.