A small but meaningful rebellion is percolating in East Grand Forks, one that will take advantage of a ridiculous loophole in a mandate declared last month by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.
On Jan. 9, the event’s organizer, Justin LaRocque, is asking people to set up ice houses, tents or similar structures on East Grand Forks’ Third Street Northwest. LaRocque, who owns the restaurant Spud Jr., wants the event to showcase support for businesses that have been forced to close to in-store service during the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor last month said Minnesota bars and restaurants are restricted to takeout, or serving guests in outdoor seating.
Takeout service is at least something, although it can hardly sustain a business. But outdoor seating in December? In northern Minnesota? It’s a proverbial slap in the face to countless Minnesota businesses that are financially strapped and teetering on insolvency.
Walz is expected to next week revisit the mandate, and our hope – as noted before – is that the governor will allow bars, restaurants and others at least a fraction of their normal capacity. Somewhere near 50% seems appropriate.
Minnesota businesses along the border are especially being victimized, since potential customers can simply cross into North Dakota and visit one of the city’s many open bars and restaurants.
Grand Forks’ hospitality industry also is suffering, but since North Dakota is allowing limited capacity, they’re not entirely handcuffed like their counterparts just a few hundred yards away.
Greater Grand Forks residents must remember the impact of these restrictions – both in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks – and continue to patronize local businesses. If we don’t, some won’t be here when the pandemic ends.
And on Jan. 9, residents should similarly consider joining the rebellion in East Grand Forks. It’ll cost $40 to set up a structure; proceeds will be donated to Boardwalk Bar and Grill and Joe’s Diner, two establishments that last month opened in defiance of the governor’s order. The funds likely will be used to help in any possible legal defense.
LaRocque needs a permit, and the City Council will consider it in the coming days. We hope the council approves the permit, since the event will raise awareness of the dire situation in which many businesses now are trying to function.
East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander recently participated in an outdoor gathering in front of the Spud Jr. He and others met one morning, enjoyed a drink in the freezing cold and discussed the unfairness of the restrictions.
He called the shutdown orders a “boulder” in the path of commerce and good business and community relations. He said people can either stand by that boulder and wait for it to go away, or go around it and have some fun.
We don’t condone breaking any laws, and this event will be entirely legal. It will use the provided loophole in the state mandate to show support for those who need it.
The council, along with residents of both communities, should, as Gander says, “walk around the boulder” that blocks the path of so many Minnesota businesses.
Herald editorial board