Uprising in Garrison as Minnesota Business Owners Fight For Their Livelihoods

Anger and frustration are mounting among restaurant and bar owners throughout Minnesota.

Katherine Kersten

Anger and frustration are mounting among restaurant and bar owners throughout Minnesota. Many—especially those in Central Minnesota’s beautiful lakes vacation area—are watching their livelihoods slip away, due to Gov. Tim Walz’s repeated extensions of his coronavirus shutdown order.

Recently, 50 or so of these small business owners met in Garrison, in Crow Wing County, to discuss the possibility of opening their establishments despite the governor’s dictates. The pain they expressed radiates from the Brainerd Dispatch’s coverage of the meeting:

As a spring snowfall kept the bite quiet and drove anglers off the lakes during the fishing opener May 9, bar owner Scott Lorentz watched what could’ve been a record weekend slip through his fingers.
Ordered closed by Gov. Tim Walz since March 17 in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the state, Lorentz and dozens of other bar and restaurant owners don’t want to see the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend come and go without the chance to open their doors. Angry over another extension of the closure order through June 1, about 50 businesspeople attended a meeting Friday, May 15, at Lorentz’s bar and restaurant JJ’s Birds Nest in Garrison to discuss the possibility of defying Walz and opening anyway.
“Unfortunately, in this environment up here in Brainerd…if you don’t get the main four holidays and the rest of it, you’re not going to make the winter,” Lorentz said after the meeting.
Limited to takeout or curbside, bar and restaurant owners are still responsible for many costs associated with their businesses while their incomes are dramatically reduced. Lorentz said he’s spent nearly $15,000 just to keep his doors open. Meanwhile, disaster relief funding and the Paycheck Protection Program haven’t provided what he’d hoped.

At the meeting, attendees discussed the logical inconsistencies of the governor’s orders:

There were complaints of inconsistent and seemingly nonsensical rules, such as allowing clubhouses at golf courses to sell beer for consumption off-site, but not on the course. Anxiety was present over what capacity limits there might be, how it would be enforced and how much revenue business owners could make in those circumstances.

They also agreed that their industry is

better equipped than most others to handle increased cleanliness measures due to the training they already have. Some said they would’ve been ready to adhere to new standards back in mid-March. Lorentz said he’s switched to plastic flatware, has plans to install hand sanitizer dispensers at every entrance and bathroom door along with behind the bar, and will keep condiment caddies in the back to be sanitized after each use.

The meeting in Garrison is part of a growing movement to resist against the draconian measures the governor has imposed. “The call comes as more townships, cities and counties are passing resolutions or submitting letters to Walz pleading with him to reopen the remaining closed small businesses sooner,” according to the Dispatch.

Our nation is entering an unprecedented time, in which government overreach is increasingly difficult to reconcile with our status as a democracy. The number of positive coronavirus cases in Crow Wing County is negligible, according to the Minnesota Department of Health web site. Yet currently, in response, unchecked power in the executive branch is compelling small business owners to collaborate in their own economic suicide.

Here’s the most chilling thing: Small business owners who push back to feed their families may feel the punitive jackboot of the State. Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, told the Garrison meeting attendees that if they defy the governor, they could face the loss of a liquor license, a buyer’s card or both. Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard told the Dispatch that—while he intends only to educate any businesses reported for violations—“there are many other layers of enforcement and regulation over which he has no control,” in the words of the Dispatch.

“It’s multi-faceted, and taken at face value when it comes down to it, we as law enforcement are not the ones who have the final say,” Goddard said, noting the county attorney’s office, city prosecutor, state agencies and even the attorney general’s office through civil means could all take action.

At the meeting, Crow Wing County Board Chairman Paul Koering exhibited the kind of leadership that will be indispensable if our freedoms are to remain intact in the current environment:

Koering told the crowd he would support a resolution allowing businesses in the county to reopen — although that could lead to legal troubles for the county down the road, if passed.
“I’m elected by the people. I’m representing the people that live down here, and just because the governor says, by god, this is the way it’s going to be, that means I’m supposed to be a sheep and I’m supposed to listen to just whatever he says?” Koering said. “I’m not supposed to push back? No, I’m elected by the people. I will fight for you, if it comes to making a motion to protect these small businesses, I’m going to have your rear ends, I can tell you that.”
Katherine Kersten
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Katherine Kersten, a writer and attorney, is a Senior Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment. She served as a Metro columnist for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) from 2005 to 2008 and as an opinion columnist for the paper for 15 years between 1996 and 2013. She was a founding director of the Center and served as its chair from 1996 to 1998.