Petition urges Minnesota to ‘reopen Brainerd Lakes’

Downtown Brainerd
Downtown Brainerd, Minn., in 2009. A petition urging state officials to allow businesses in the popular Brainerd Lakes Area to reopen as soon as possible has gotten thousands of signatures — but also some detractors.
Tom Weber | MPR News 2009

A petition urging state officials to allow businesses in the popular Brainerd Lakes Area to reopen as soon as possible has gotten thousands of signatures — but also some detractors.

The Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce launched a campaign late last week urging state officials to speed up development of health and safety guidelines, so businesses shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic can reopen. 

With the summer tourist season approaching, many resorts, restaurants and shops in the Brainerd area — and other tourist destinations in Minnesota — are closed due to the stay-at-home order. Others have had to lay off workers or postpone taking reservations for summer visitors.

Matt Kilian, president of the 1,000-member Brainerd Chamber of Commerce, said the stay-at-home order is devastating local businesses, some of which may not reopen if the current situation continues much longer.

“We're facing losing some of the most important and celebrated small businesses in the Brainerd Lakes Area that will close their doors forever," Kilian said.

He said the Chamber of Commerce has been promoting buying local and offering businesses advice about financial advice, but its board of directors decided a “bolder message” was needed.

“We need guidance in order to get our economy reopened again, because the damage is going to be irreversible to not only the businesses, but our community and quality of life,” Kilian said.

The petition has garnered about 2,400 signatures. But it also met with criticism from opponents, who say the decision about when businesses can safely reopen should be left to health experts.

“Am I in favor of reopening local small businesses a little too early and perhaps enabling a second wave of the virus? No, I’m not! I’d rather have my customers alive and well!” one commenter responded to the petition on social media.

Gov. Tim Walz did ease stay-at-home restrictions last week to allow golf courses to reopen and Minnesotans to resume some outdoor activities such as boating and fishing while following social distancing guidelines.

Kilian said the Chamber of Commerce isn’t advocating for a complete and reckless reopening of all businesses, but for doing it cautiously, following safety guidelines. He also said the campaign is not a “war on science” or a politically charged attack.

“We think the governor is doing a great job,” Kilian said. “We just want to urge him, from a greater Minnesota perspective, a Brainerd Lakes perspective, that we don’t have much time left.”

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