Downtown businesses seeing a rebound summer
Last summer, COVID restrictions put a damper on businesses in the state, but the mood among business owners in downtown Park Rapids this summer is positive in spite of a labor shortage that has left some businesses short staffed and others in town with reduced hours.
Sally Wizik Wills is the chair of the Park Rapids Downtown Business Association (DBA). “People are doing well,” she said. “June was particularly good. Compared to previous Junes, it was way better. The spirit of the business community is upbeat and optimistic.”
She said there are a number of new businesses in town, including the Wine Not bar in the former Moose Creek building and the new electric bike shop downtown, called Pedago.
“That’s a positive sign for our business community that new businesses are starting here,” she said.
Restaurants, which were limited in customers last year due to capacity restrictions for social distancing under state COVID guidelines, are also seeing a good season. “By and large, they have been too busy to come to our monthly meetings,” she said.
“2nd Street Stage is doing extremely well. We bought an Ice Castle this summer that’s serving as the bar so we’re able to serve beer faster. We’ve had good crowds down there. Even with the air quality problems (due to smoke from Canadian wildfires), people are coming.”
Money raised from the liquor sales goes towards lowering DBA dues and increasing advertising.
Nationwide labor shortages are being felt in this area, too.
“Businesses are struggling with staffing issues,” Wizik Wills said. “They are having trouble finding adults to work. That’s a nationwide trend. I know there are businesses here in town with reduced hours because they can’t get staff, like Holiday and Ace.”
Traditionally, high school students have filled many of summer job openings.
Josie Fiphyn is manager at the Park Rapids Holiday station. She said instead of being open 24 hours a day, hours have been limited from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. for over a month.“That’s how it will be until I can find enough staff to have it open 24 hours,” she said. “There just aren't any applications coming in. A few other Holidays in the state had to reduce their hours, too, because they can’t find workers.”
Ron Benton is assistant manager at Cwikla Ace Hardware in Park Rapids.
He said the store reduced store hours during COVID and has not decided to bring them back to where they were.
“We may keep the hours we have,” he said. “We are not finding the people that we need. We’re not getting a lot of applications. Since COVID started, a lot of people don’t want to work. We have been short-handed this summer. We’ve gotten a few applications starting to come in now.”
As a result, he said current employees sometimes have to work more hours.
Looking ahead to fall
“The Delta variant will dictate a lot of this, but we’re looking forward to resuming some things we have done in the past, like Halloween trick or treating downtown that had to be modified last year,” Wizik Wills said. “We are hopeful that we can do that this year, but no decision has been made yet. Also the Yuletide Sampler that we couldn’t do last year.”
She said requiring masks indoors, as currently recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health, is up to individual business owners.
“I think people are monitoring the situation,” she added.
DBA members meet at 8 a.m. the first Wednesday of the month in the back room of Bella Caffe on 3rd Street in downtown Park Rapids. Contact Wizik Wills at Beagle and Wolf Books for more information.