Businesses scramble to lay plans for partial reopening

A dog is groomed by a professional groomer.
Aska Pet Spa and Botique owner Celine Gregory plans to offer curbside grooming services in the coming week.
Courtesy of Celine Gregory

More than a month after Gov. Tim Walz issued a stay-at-home order, some nonessential retail businesses will be allowed to partially reopen on Monday, offering curbside pickup or delivery. 

Walz’s administration estimates that this could put about 30,000 residents back to work. But businesses built on face-to-face interactions are scrambling to find ways to do things differently under the threat of COVID-19. 

Celine Gregory, owner and sole employee of Aska Pet Spa and Boutique in St. Paul, plans to spend the early part of next week rescheduling grooming appointments that had to be canceled when the stay-at-home order took effect in March. 

A dog is groomed by a professional groomer.
Grooming appointments at Celine Gregory's Aska Pet Spa and Botique had been canceled due to the stay-home order to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Minnesota.
Courtesy of Celine Gregory

Gregory is trying to envision how she can complete tasks that used to be simple — like receiving a dog from its owner without bringing the owner into her shop, or possibly getting bit by a dog that’s afraid.  

“People are really anxious and nervous and dogs can feel that,” she said.

“Even at vet’s offices they’re finding that dogs are more aggressive during hand-off.” 

Gregory is planning to install an outdoor kennel, where customers can leave their dog for her to retrieve.

And since customers can’t come into her shop to browse dog toys and treats, she's building an online shop for pickup and delivery. 

In the last month of being closed, Gregory has lived pretty frugally, but the closing still set her business back a bit. 

“The business side of things has been more nerve-wracking because I wanted to get another employee, and not having any money coming in, I don’t have the funds to hire anyone,” she said.  

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It's also been tough for employees at Cryptid Hair Parlour in northeast Minneapolis. Only one of the five independent contractors cutting hair there has so far received unemployment payments from the government. 

A hairdresser cuts a customer's hair.
Cryptid Hair Parlour co-owner Anya Oulman is considering whether it’s worth it for her salon to offer curbside pickup of hair products even if they can’t cut hair yet.
Courtesy of Anya Oulman

Anya Oulman said she and her co-owner have been talking about whether they should try to sell hair products through curbside pickup next week to bring in some income.

She's not sure there's demand for it.

Only two customers have contacted her about hair products since the salon closed in mid-March. 

“The salon doesn’t make very much money off retail sales,” she said. “That’s not our bread and butter, it’s the services we provide.”

Most of Oulman’s attention is instead focused on planning for when they can actually bring customers in for haircuts again. They’re trying to figure out how both they and customers can wear protective gear, limit the number of people in the space and effectively sanitize surfaces between haircuts. 

It’s a challenge, Oulman said. 

“I don’t know, it’s going to be weird,” she said. “And it’s going to be a mess at first, but we’ll figure it out. And I don’t think people are just not ever going to be able to get haircuts again.”

Lots of business owners who could partially open Monday may choose instead to focus on obtaining supplies or planning, said Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association. 

“Under these guidelines, it’s the day you can start, but it’s not necessarily the day you have to start,” he said. “For retailers, they’ll be really relying on, ‘What is my consumer going to feel good about?’ Because if the consumer doesn’t come back, there’s really no need to be open or offering that service.”

At Southside Vintage and Quality Goods in south Minneapolis, Susan Donnelly and her husband Chris plan to start allowing curbside pickup Monday of items they post on Instagram. 

Donnelly said they used to do 99 percent of their sales face-to-face. But she thinks online sales are going to be an important part of her business even after customers are allowed back in the shop. 

She said the partial reopening is a lifesaver for the work she loves doing.  

“The curbside pickup and the no-contact delivery, that is going to save us,” she said. “If we had to go another month without that, that would be a different story.”

The governor’s executive order Thursday extended his stay-at-home order until May 18.