With detour and road closed signs moved, Hwy 71 opened for business on Tuesday, Aug. 25, but the businesses along Hwy 71 and Hwy 10 have remained open—though starting with some businesses shuttered in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The construction of course was a worry for businesses long before the pandemic hit, and now faced with both, five downtown businesses share how they’re adapting for their customers while business has been slower. All have experienced a decrease in revenue, even up to 50%, that will take time to recover from.
“There’s a drop, I think everybody experiences a drop, it’s just a matter of how you deal with that,” said Paulette Ohm, owner of 1776 Clothing Company.
1776, Lyle’s, Wedding Gallery
“The supply chain is broken as well so it makes it harder to keep your supply in … and where those demands are has shifted,” Ohm said. “It’s a broken chain that’s fixing itself but it’s going to take a long time I think for that chain to be fixed too.”
The broken chains are part of a ripple effect seen in industry after industry, like Lyle’s Shoes not being able to get in lineman boots with the Red Wing Shoes factory being closed and the lack of a bridal market meaning less options for Now & Forever Wedding Gallery. Ohm, too, has experienced waits of at least a month as states have varying levels of reopening. Lyle’s Shoes store manager Brent Polan said some people have waited for shoes since May.
“It kind of makes us lose a little business instead of having them on hand,” Polan said.
While Polan also said business sales are “looking good” overall, they would be better if shoes were available right away since “a lot of people just don’t like waiting,” he said.
At Now & Forever Wedding Gallery, owner Amanda Schmidt had no prom and limited weddings, meaning she’s had 50% less revenue this year than last year.
“With the pandemic we have lost out on prom, which is a very big deal to us, it pretty much takes care of our entire year,” Schmidt said. “We’ve lost out on a lot of weddings because people have chosen just to get married by themselves versus with their wedding party or they’ve moved their wedding, and I’m afraid if the pandemic continues and they have to move it again, they just won’t have a full wedding.”
The numbers aren’t coming in for fall either. As plans evolve, Schmidt continues to keep up with her bridal groups, in fact with even closer relationships this year. A delay on products coming in, can mean a wait of six to nine months instead of the usual three months, according to Schmidt.
“It’s nobody’s fault, it is what it is so we just roll with it without being negative every day,” Schmidt said.
Ohm said she is always looking for the silver lining even as business is slower with the lack of people out.
“I hope it makes people realize just how important small businesses are to towns and that it’s important for everybody to shop local to support the small businesses to keep small towns thriving,” Ohm said.
Ohm has also seen clothing patterns shift as people seek out more casual attire. The uncertainty of the economy and the school year have also impacted people’s buying habits, Ohm said.
“I don’t think they’re school shopping like they have in the past … they don’t know what to expect, so I haven’t seen the numbers coming through for school shopping like they typically would,” Ohm said.
One of the benefits during the construction and pandemic has been the Cruzen in Wadena promotion with Leighton Broadcasting, which gives a “good visual” on the number of people shopping in Wadena, according to Ohm. People can receive stamps for their purchases in town and be entered to win gift cards as well as a Vikings wrapped purple car.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t want to think about it quite honestly,” Ohm said about local sales without the promotion. “I just hope everybody pulls through, and it’s scary.”
"The unknown is just too big, there’s no planning, there’s no preparing. We could be shut down again tomorrow."
— Amanda Schmidt
The Convention and Visitors Bureau through the Wadena Chamber of Commerce funded some of the promotion’s PR and otherwise makes sure cards are available and encourages people to shop in Wadena, according to board member and Wadena library branch manager Renee Frethem. Frethem said the board has been “transitioning” and working on developing a description for a part-time executive director position after Jed Brazier’s departure in June. The Chamber will also start doing business highlights on Facebook and employee Crystal Riddle continues communication with members.
“Right now with the way things are in the community, I think the Chamber has an important position though,” Frethem said. “We want to make sure that the businesses are represented and that they’re being highlighted.”
Business owners will also continue to support one another, like sharing their Facebook posts as Ohm said, and recognizing that businesses in Wadena and everywhere are hurting.
“It’s not just us in Wadena, it’s everybody. So that’s the hard part too, is you try to work together and do things but there’s not even a way of working together to get out of this, everybody’s in the same boat,” Schmidt said.
Both Schmidt and Ohm said they try to be as positive as they can despite setbacks.
One such setback came with the loss of parking spaces on Hwy 71. Michael Craig of Amerprise Financial said businesses were taken by surprise to see a new line being drawn that removed parking in front of Pizza Ranch, Ameriprise and 1776 on Aug. 25. He said the businesses were not informed of the parking loss, and in a special city council meeting on Sept. 1, Wadena City Administrator Janette Bower said she didn’t know until that day as well.
“It does affect all of downtown,” Ohm said.
While Craig said customers at Ameriprise normally have appointments and plan ahead for parking, he finds the situation, including the lack of communication from MnDOT, “frustrating.” Rather than being able to park in front of the businesses, people will have to learn something new, according to Craig. The city council approved 14 spaces of diagonal parking for the north side of Aldrich Avenue Southeast.
“I’m waiting for that silver lining to figure out what it is but there is,” Ohm said. “Was I upset? Absolutely. But I can’t dwell on it. … It’s not going to change, no matter how upset I get it’s not going to change.”
"It kind of makes us lose a little business instead of having them on hand."
— Brent Polan
The transition to Hwy 71 reopening, and again being the main road to cross the tracks, has had a negative impact on parking and people being nervous to come downtown because of the traffic, according to Polan and Boondocks owner Shelly Salge.
When Second Street Southwest was open, Polan said parking options were plentiful though construction overall has impacted the number of people that have come into the store. The construction was something Schmidt felt the city prepared businesses well for which meant customers could also be prepared. Ohm said the city has “been huge supporters” in the pandemic.
“I think that they’re (businesses) still continuing to see the impact of both the COVID pandemic and construction,” Bower said.
Boondocks, Drastic Measures
Restaurants and bars are operating at 50% capacity according to Gov. Tim Walz’s Executive Order 20-74, which Salge says is difficult because they have to have customers buying food to have more staff working but the staff working also count as the number of people allowed in the restaurant. Boondocks can have 75 people.
“We take what we get. 50% is 50%. That’s it, that’s all we get,” Salge said.
From doing take-out and curbside delivery starting in March to removing tables and chairs and items like coffee pots that can’t be sanitized for reopening, Salge said “you just have to adjust on everything.” In their catering business, they lost jobs because of canceled events or a drop in the number of people, according to Salge.
The doors are kept open—even if it’s an hour later because of the extra preparations needed for the day and with a loss of 50% of their revenue—so Salge said, “We do OK.”
With four tables of small clusters of people on a Friday afternoon instead of every table full like last summer, Drastic Measures Brewing owner Ashley Doebbeling said the lessened travel has impacted their business, from people traveling to the Cities to locals stopping by for lunch.
“I’d say that traffic is cut in half at least. It’s a lot slower. Fortunately for us, we can instead of sending the beer up here, we send it out the back door and send it to liquor stores,” Doebbeling said.
"We take what we get. 50% is 50%. That’s it, that’s all we get."
— Shelly Salge
During the shuttering of businesses, Drastic Measures could have off-sales like a liquor store, according to Doebbeling. Alcohol sales have also seen an increase in certain markets.
“This was going to be our second year open, we were going to rock it. It was going to be packed every night,” Doebbeling said.
While business has changed, from wholesale sales that bring in less money and events with a crowd that just aren’t possible, Doebbeling also finds their business is “in a better position than a lot of places in town here are.” The brewery developed a #Wadenastrong beer to help support area businesses through a COVID-19 Emergency Minnesota Investment Fund Loan program.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Doebbeling said. “The people in this area really love the brewery and they want to keep it open so they’ve been very supportive.”
Construction—for a time—helped since people would sit in traffic on Hwy 10 waiting for the Second Street Southwest light to turn and then decide to stop in for a drink. With Hwy 71 open, the opposite is true.
“People are just so happy to get through that stoplight they just breeze on past us,” Doebbeling said.
Salge said people are “leery” about coming downtown because of traffic.
“It’s been really kind of difficult for people to get to us even with the detour and all the signage and stuff, the backup on traffic has been terrible,” Salge said. “Now that 71 is open it’s a little bit better but it’s still really hard to get downtown.”
The looming uncertainties and the long-term impacts of the pandemic along with budgeting well are on the top of Bower’s mind. The daily is “just watching to see what happens next,” Bower said.
“At this time I’m not really sure, I’m really not,” Bower said of the expected loss in revenue. “We haven’t seen a loss there (property tax collection) but I am concerned that the long-term effects. Right now, everyone was able to make it through but there’s still these long-term effects going on and … that’s what concerns me as we move into the fall and the winter, what’s going to happen next.”