Monday was a fine day to walk up and down Main Avenue in Park Rapids – and for the first time since March, some of the shops were open. Businesses reopening this week are expected to take precautions for their customers’ safety, and everyone is urged to continue social distancing.

Learned to slow down

Robin Cunningham, owner of Smoky Hills Art, said she felt “very excited to be available to the community again.”

As for how well the downtown business community will recover from being closed more than two months, she said, “I think it’s a ‘wait and see how things unfold.’”

Cunningham recently listed her business for sale, but not because of to COVID-19. “It’s due to a brain injury,” she said, referring to a medical crisis three years ago. “However, COVID showed me how good it is to slow down and be stress-free. So, it was an impetus, but it’s not the reason.”

As she squeezed her comments between interactions with customers, it was apparent that Cunningham made personal connections with them. For example, one customer thanked her for teaching him an artistic technique and asked where to find art materials.

“I’m very hopeful that somebody will come in and want to keep things just as is, because the community loves this place,” she said. “It’s great to see people back.”

Customers waiting in line

“We were very ready,” said Nancy Westby, manager of Bearly Used Thrift Store. “We’ve been taking donations for a few weeks now, so the store has been getting really full. We are ready to have our customers come back and shop. We are excited to see them.”

Westby said they had a line outside when the store opened Monday morning. “I think they were excited to see us, too,” she said.

As of Monday, the thrift store was being operated by Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center staff.

Laura Johnson, executive director of the DAC, said their clients “are very excited to come back to work, but we have to wait until the Department of Health and Human Services gives us permission. We’re excited to bring the clients back, but of course, we have to follow all the rules and make sure that we put protections in place for the clients.”

Regarding the DAC’s other stores, Johnson said Salvage Depot would open on Wednesday, and the Tin Ceiling will open on May 26.

Maybe a little late

“We kind of reopened a few days early, but today is our official day to be open,” said Dee Smith with Amish Oak and American Furnishings. “Everyone that’s walked in has bought something.”

In general, she said, “I think it was a little late, because the big box stores were all open and we were not, and we never have as much traffic as the big box stores.”

���I do think the small stores are essential to our community,” Smith added. “That’s what really is the heart and soul of it.”

“We are thrilled that we can be open again,” said Barbara Bumgardner, designer at Rustic Cabin Decor.

“I’m happy to be shopping,” customer Ruth Ann Pachel chimed in.

Adaptations

Randy Michaels, co-owner of Lickin’ Good Whole Pet Foods, explained that they were able to stay open because they sell something essential: dog and cat food.

“Things have been a little bit slower than usual. May is traditionally the busiest month of the year, especially with people coming up,” he said. “It just feels stressful for everybody.”

Michaels said he feels badly for resorts, restaurants and others that are still shuttered.

It’s been hit-or-miss whether a customer wears a face mask. “Everyone is respectful of distance,” he noted.

Aunt Belle’s Confectionary was able to sell its goodies online and curbside during the shutdown.

Ray Carlson, who owns Aunt Belle's Confectionary with wife Karen, said they have made changes inside the store as a result of the pandemic. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)
Ray Carlson, who owns Aunt Belle's Confectionary with wife Karen, said they have made changes inside the store as a result of the pandemic. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)

“With our website, we’ve been shipping all over the U.S.,” said co-owner Ray Carlson. “A lot of our regular customers winter in Arizona, so they called up and asked us to ship to them.”

It was a slow start Monday, he said. “We’re open. It’s been going all right, so far. Your first day opening on a Monday isn’t going to be conducive to reach crowds, which is good, we can start out slow. Get into the routine, figure it out from there.”

The Carlsons made “significant” changes inside the store as precautions against COVID-19. Candy is no longer in jars; instead it is prepackaged. There are gloves for people to wear while picking out taffy. Coffee is pre-bagged instead of self-serve.

“It’s been difficult, just like everybody else, but probably not as bad for us as it has been for some people, for sure,” Carlson said.