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‘It’s not business as usual’

Local businesses facing long recovery from pandemic

As Minnesota continues to reopen in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, businesses in Austin are facing a tough road ahead.

“It’s not business as usual,” said Austin Area Chamber of Commerce President Elaine Hansen. “Pretty much everybody has been affected to some extent. They need to be open so business can continue, but no business is whole at this point.”

According to Hansen, businesses are dealing with the pressures that have become associated with reopening during the pandemic, including having an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, practicing extra sanitation, the extra cost of shipping, and looking out for the health of their employees.

“I don’t know if we’re getting back to normal; it’s a new normal we’re going to have,” Hansen said. “We still need to encourage people to wear their masks and practice extra sanitary measures.”

“Every business has taken great strides to make sure they provide the safest experience possible and that takes money and staff time,” she added.

For businesses that were closed under Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders, reopening is a welcome change, though it does not regain any lost revenue. Those businesses that were allowed to remain open were also impacted as government officials stressed the importance of increased sanitation and social distancing.

“There has been no one that has gone unscathed by this,” Hansen said.

The City of Austin has taken some steps to help alleviate the stress felt by local business owners. According to City Clerk Ann Kasel, the city has issued 13 temporary outdoor seating licenses, has waived parking requirements, and expanded liquor licenses with no fees. She also noted that the Austin City Council will vote on refunding a portion of liquor license fees during its next regular meeting.

Hansen said there is a way to aid in the recovery: shopping local.

“We need to encourage people to do business in town,” she said. “A lot of people did online shopping during this time, and I get that, but we need to support local businesses. I Think Amazon is going to be okay. The local stores in town want to work with you, so talk to them. If they don’t have what you want, ask if they can order it for you. The (Austin business) community will continue on if we continue to do business locally. That’s the only way we can get through this together.”

“It’s going to be a long recovery,” she added. “The pandemic is not going away.”