An East Grand Forks bar and restaurant was seemingly ineffectually ordered to close Friday after the state attorney general filed a lawsuit that said the business refused to comply with Executive Order 20-99, which prohibits on-premises dining through Dec. 18.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced shortly after 5 p.m. that Polk County District Court granted his office’s motion for a temporary restraining order to prohibit Boardwalk Bar and Grill from remaining open to the public for on-premises dining. He said the establishment had been operating in violation of the order for approximately 72 hours.
Boardwalk owners Jane Moss and Dan Stauss reopened on Wednesday afternoon despite the order, which Gov. Tim Walz signed in mid-November in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“In short, Boardwalk Bar and Grill, LLC is ignoring the risks of the virus and has disregarded the prohibitions established by Emergency Executive Order 20-99 to protect the public’s health and safety,” Ellison’s lawsuit read.
He asked a Polk County judge to declare that the bar violated Walz’s order multiple times, fine it as much as $25,000 for each violation, and to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the bar from continuing to offer dine-in service.
“I know it’s especially tough on establishments in border areas — but the fact that neighboring states should be doing more to stop the spread of COVID doesn’t mean Minnesotans should do less. It’s only fair to the businesses that are doing their part to hold accountable those that aren’t,” Ellison is quoted as saying in a Friday news release.
Friday’s suit is the first meaningful enforcement action taken against the bar since it reopened on Wednesday afternoon, but it nonetheless seemed to be ineffective: the restaurant was operating as usual on Friday night, even after a Polk County Sheriff's deputy served them with the restraining order. An East Grand Forks Police Department employee said they did not have plans to enforce the order that night, and the sheriff's department generally defers to the city police department when a problem crops up within city limits.
And it's unclear how city police might respond. Beyond documenting potential violations of Walz’s orders and reminding business owners of their obligations under them, East Grand Forks civic leaders quietly agreed over the summer to otherwise stand aside, and they’ve thus far stuck to that plan.
Moss, who’s owned the bar for about 11 and a half years, said Wednesday that she anticipated some type of repercussions. She did not return a Herald request for comment Friday afternoon.
Earlier, though, Moss indicated that her back was against the wall, financially: the Boardwalk, in her estimation, would not survive if Walz extended his order beyond the 18th, which he is widely expected to do. The initial round of COVID-19 shutdowns ordered this spring had a few different avenues through which businesses could maintain their cash flow while their operations were slowed or closed, but the governor’s newest round of closure orders came without an associated aid package from the state or feds.
Minnesota lawmakers are set to convene on Monday to put together some type of financial lifeline for businesses curtailed by Walz’s orders, but East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander has repeatedly said that’s the wrong way to approach it.
“If you call upon one small sector of our economy to bear the load for the greater good, fund them before you shut them down,” he said forcefully at a meeting on Wednesday night at which Eastside business leaders and lawmakers assailed the order and wondered about the consequences of a mass reopening. “You don't break ground on a house before you have the thing financed, and you don't shut a business down for the greater good without money to make sure they get through it.”