WORTHINGTON — Among the numerous changes to daily life that have arisen in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak is a shift in focus for local business.
“Businesses are doing the best they can in a situation like we are facing today,” said Darlene Macklin, executive director of the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Last month, Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order mandating that all restaurants and bars close to sit-down service. Some, like the Ground Round, closed entirely, but many restaurants and bars moved to a take-out/delivery/drive-through only model.
Duffer’s Bar & Grill food and beverage manager Kim Hinkeldey said the restaurant, which is associated with GreatLIFE Worthington, is heading into what's normally the busiest time of year. With the delay of spring sports openers, though, Duffer’s is not getting golf season traffic.
Revenue losses mean that Hinkeldey has had to lay off some of her staff.
“That’s been really hard,” she said, “to have people not working. They have families at home.”
However, she and her assistant, Jaenene Winters, are trying to stay positive and as involved in the community as they can from a distance.
“The community has been amazing,” Hinkeldey said, adding that Duffer’s has seen new customers and strong support from carry-out patrons.
One customer called the restaurant and asked Hinkeldey if he could purchase a gift card and have Duffer’s use it to provide meals for community members who were making a difference during the coronavirus pandemic. Hinkeldey agreed.
The customer, who wished to remain anonymous, purchased a gift card in the amount of $700. He returned later with a generous cash tip for the staff and bought an additional gift card, Hinkeldey added.
Duffer’s used the donation to provide meals for ISD 518 teachers, medical staff at Avera and Sanford, Worthington police officers, postal service employees, hospice care workers and JBS truck drivers.
“It’s been very emotional,” Hinkeldey said., adding that each group that has received meals has been appreciative of the act of kindness. “We’re trying to give back the support the community has given us."
Eating establishments aren’t the only businesses affected by social distancing protocols. Walz later required all non-essential businesses to stop walk-in operations for the time being.
Matt Kennedy, owner/manager of Worthington’s Brown’s Shoe Fit Company, commented that much of his job remains the same — searching for the right shoe in the right size, packaging and filling orders, talking with customers about what might be the best fit for them — but the biggest, and most noticeable, difference is not being able to interact with customers face-to-face.
Kennedy initiated a couple of new shopping options since folks aren’t able to browse in store right now. He already offered online shopping and shipping, and has now made available curbside pickup and local delivery for those who need to shop for shoes while social distancing.
“The uncertainty can drive you a little nuts, because you get used to a structure,” Kennedy noted, adding that all the local businesses are “together as one” in this time of change, which he sees as a silver lining. “Community support has been fantastic."
Operating a business during a global crisis can be overwhelming at times, he said, but encouragement and patronage from community members helps.
“Each one of the positive comments, the good faiths, the reach-outs, means more to us than anyone can know,” Kennedy said.
In addition to verbal support, Macklin suggested a number of ways to help local businesses during this time: shop on their websites if possible, purchase gift cards for later use and order take-out from restaurants.
“More than ever, Worthington businesses need our support right now,” Macklin said. “Big or small, we are all in this together, and we need each other.”
She also emphasized that after the pandemic passes, it will be crucial for the community to show up in person again and support local business.