Penelope Burau felt whipsawed once again.
Her hair salon, closed since March 17, will stay shuttered at least another two weeks as Minnesotans fight the coronavirus pandemic.
This week was the third time she’d felt ready to get back to work, only to have Gov. Tim Walz decide that businesses like hers that involve close contact should stay closed awhile longer.
“This is something I never thought I’d have to navigate,” said Burau, a stylist for Salon Concepts in Chanhassen. “To be forced not to have an income, to be without anything, is pretty devastating.”
Walz on Wednesday gave the green light for most retailers to reopen Monday at 50% capacity. But hands-on businesses such as hair salons, barber shops and fitness centers will remain sidelined until at least June 1. Gathering spots like movie theaters, bowling alleys, bars and restaurants also have to wait.
Roughly nine in 10 Minnesota workers soon will be back on the job as restrictions ease, according to state officials, but the hammer continues to fall unevenly on the rest.
Burau, with a daughter about to graduate from high school, waited more than seven weeks before getting her first two weeks of unemployment insurance and the $1,200 stimulus check from the Treasury Department.
“We’re basically eating what’s already in the house,” she said. “I go from being self-sufficient and self-employed to being desperate for work. It’s been a weekly nightmare.”
John Schultz, who with wife, Kelsey, owns two Anytime Fitness gyms in the St. Cloud area, greeted Walz’s announcement on Wednesday with relief.
“At least we have light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
The Schultzes furloughed 14 employees and froze membership dues for 2,000 members. They turned an annual practice they call “fear setting” — in which they plan for the worst-case scenario — into an every-other-week conversation.
“The easy part is preparing the space,” Schultz said. “The tough part is figuring out what the market’s going to be and what the business will look like.”
Government loan programs meant to offer a safety net proved difficult to navigate, even for Schultz, who once worked for Wells Fargo.
They easily got a Small Business Administration grant for the club in Sauk Rapids, where their efforts to build a yoga and personal trainer program from scratch were starting to pay off. But they had no luck getting economic relief for the Anytime Fitness in neighboring Sartell, because it had been open less than a year.
The couple plans to re-engineer some of the fitness classes and add more virtual ones. They’re also exploring potential new revenue lines, such as meal plans, supplements and nutritional coaching.
“The businesses that will survive are the ones prepared to reinvent and respond to the market as it develops,” Kelsey Schultz said.
Jeremy Mathison, a founder and operations manager of Broken Clock Brewing in Minneapolis, regards a potential June 1 opening with equal measures of optimism and caution.
“While that’s exciting, and we’re eager,” he said, “we’re hesitant assuming people will all of a sudden come back to congregate in bars and restaurants, even at 50 percent capacity.”
Broken Clock, a cooperative with about 970 members, has added a 4,000-square-foot taproom and had planned to mark its three-year anniversary this weekend during the crowd-filled Art-A-Whirl festival, which this year will be an online-only affair.
“Just as we were starting to get our year-over-year numbers and starting to see substantial growth, we got hit with this,” Mathison said.
Broken Clock brews in small enough batches that it hasn’t had to resort to dumping, as have some craft brewers. With the help of a Paycheck Protection Program grant, it brought back eight of its 11 employees to help fill orders for growlers.
But Mathison knows that loans and grants aren’t a long-term solution.
“As breweries, we’re all fighting to get back open and welcome and celebrate our communities. That’s the whole reason breweries exist,” Mathison said. “We’re anxious to get there but we understand that people come first.”
Burau, the out-of-work stylist, fears she may never crawl out of the financial hole.
She applied for a loan from Women Venture that didn’t come through, and ended up borrowing against her retirement savings.
She took a part-time job at Target.
“Having that temporary job has helped not to completely deplete everything I’ve saved,” she said, “but it’s not paying my bills either.”
Though disappointed she’ll have to wait to reopen, demand for her services hasn’t waned.
Burau said she’d heard from 243 customers by Thursday. “All want to be ‘done’ on June 1,” she added.
Now she’s praying for patience.