Many businesses that closed during the COVID-19 pandemic have begun reopening, but Annie’s burgers and Kitty Cat Klub’s music have still been missing from the lives of many Twin Cities locals.
When John Rimarcik, owner of Annie’s Parlour and the Kitty Cat Klub, was asked why his two famously known businesses have yet to reopen since the pandemic began two and a half years ago, he quite literally spelled it out, “L-A-B-O-U-R… the British spelling.”
“When it was time to think about reopening, we saw the terrible shortage there was of management and employees. People that left, they left for other reasons, for other ways of life, for other work experiences,” Rimarcik said.
As for when we can return to Annie’s for a burger and malt, “We will open. I don’t know when. It’ll be after the first of the year, but we will reopen,” Rimarcik said.
Dozens of Twin Cities restaurants that closed during the pandemic promised on their websites or social media to reopen. But they haven’t yet. The reasons vary but include staff shortages, changes to the business environment and opportunities to remodel and rethink how to serve customers.
Despite hopes to reopen, many might have a hard time, said Ron Wirtz, regional outreach director for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. “Most of the businesses that closed because of the pandemic did so early in the pandemic. That was two and half years ago. I don’t know many businesses that can hibernate for two and half years and act like nothing happened and reopen their doors,” he said.
It’s hard not to wonder why these businesses are still closed, but the answer varies.
Many businesses have been struggling with staff shortages. Hospitality establishments in Minnesota are short nearly 23,000 workers since the beginning of 2020, according to Hospitality Minnesota. “Given these conditions, it is no surprise that 85% of operators describe labor availability as tight,” Ann Kirby, vice president of the association representing restaurants and hotels, said via email.
The businesses that are open and dealing with staffing issues are having to come up with alternative solutions like reduced hours. Fasika Ethiopian Restaurant in St. Paul has had to occasionally close temporarily due to lack of employees. It has recently changed its hours of operation from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. to now 3 p.m.-10 p.m.
“Some businesses were forced to change their business model. A lot of businesses have reopened, many have reopened in different forms,” Wirtz said.
Kopplin’s Coffee in St. Paul’s Merriam Park neighborhood has taken on a new business model since its initial closure in lockdown, according to its website. Kopplin’s used to have an open lobby for customers to enjoy a fresh cup of coffee, but it switched to entirely online operations in 2020, shipping its miscellaneous merchandise and roasted in-house coffee beans to keep its business afloat.
“It has been over a year since the café was shut down. While we have been blessed to stay in business and in contact with many of you, we miss the daily connections that so often occurred while serving beverages,” owners Andrew and Amanda Kopplin wrote in June in a letter on Kopplin’s website.
Another reason why some businesses might remain closed is that they’re using this opportunity to remodel and improve their business space. Mickey’s Diner in downtown St. Paul hosted a fundraiser to help reopen. Mickey’s owners are using that money to upgrade their HVAC system and remodel the inside of the diner car.
Of course, there are many reasons why businesses are struggling to reopen, and Wirtz said it can’t really be boiled down to one point.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic hasn’t been one thing. It’s been 10 things. As soon as we think we’re settling into something that is consistent, something new happens. Either we get a surge, supply chain problems, inflation, and now we see rising interest rates. So, businesses really have had to really endure a lot of volatility, and that is not easy to survive in,” Wirtz said.
On the flip side, Wirtz says, “I think the pandemic has created new resilience skills in businesses, which is a good thing long term. It’s bad for those that haven’t been able to make it, but it has been making the remaining businesses stronger.”