Businesses adapt to COVID-19 restrictions
“Business as usual” will have a different look in downtown Rugby for weeks ahead thanks to guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls and the North Dakota Department of Health.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum ordered bars and restaurants closed indefinitely last Friday to stem the spread of COVID-19, a novel virus causing a global pandemic and landing at least eight North Dakotans in hospitals.
As of Thursday morning, 52 North Dakotans had tested positive for the virus, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. No deaths from the virus had been reported.
Business owners began making adjustments to CDC and health department recommendations to slow the spread through “social distancing,” or maintaining a space of at least six feet between individuals and limiting the number of persons in rooms such as lobbies and offices to 10 or fewer.
The guidelines encourage “non-essential” workers -for example, those working in areas outside of healthcare or grocery stores – to work from home whenever possible.
Schools have been closed in North Dakota since March 16 and teachers are working online to deliver lessons to students.
Banks in Rugby announced they would close their lobbies to the public and conduct business from drive-up windows or online.
Other Rugby offices followed suit.
Steve Mueller of NoDak Insurance told the Tribune his agency sent letters to customers to inform them the office lobby would be closed and agents would be available by appointment only.
“Mostly everything is being done by phone, mail or email,” Mueller said.
“We’re also messaging people on Facebook,” he added. “We’re still doing work to make it easier to reach out to clients by phone (and via computer),” Mueller added. “We’re still open, but closed to walk-in traffic.”
Other Rugby insurance agencies said they had similar policies.
“Our lobby is closed. People can still make appointments to visit the office,” Jennifer Ramsey of Center Mutual Insurance Company said. “We have staff working from home.”
Rugby Farmers Union Insurance agents Zach Axtman and Chris Walker have been working from home, according to office staffer Kimberly Thingvold. “They’re available to help by phone and email,” she said.
Rugby’s NuLine Insurance office is also closed to walk-in traffic, but help is available via phone or online.
According to a news release, Heart of America Public Library has closed to the public until further notice.
Clothing retailer Fashion and Flair Outlet announced on social media last Friday was “the last day we will be open until further notice. If you need something, you can call us and we will open the store for you!” the announcement read.
Ashley Berg of Rugby’s Main Street Boutique said she was taking “day by day” approach with her store.
“I’m open. It kind of goes day by day. We’re doing some more Facebook posts and positive promoting,” Berg said. “I’m here for (people to pick up wine). It’s not a necessity, so don’t come out if you’re not feeling good.”
“Today I’m open and I’m kind of playing it by ear because I know last week it was already starting to be very slow,” Berg noted. “That’s kind of a good thing because then people are staying home.” Berg said it was possible her store would close on Friday or Saturday. “You just never know,” she said.
“I’ve had a lot of people call to either ask for wine or a gift, so I’m making new gift cards,” she laughed. “So, like I said, I’m just playing it by ear and promoting social distancing and being smart.”
A social media announcement by Rugby’s St. Michel Furniture read, “For the safety of our customers, employees and the community, St Michel Furniture will be closing our retail sales floors on 3/20/20 at 4pm. Our phone lines and email will be available Monday – Friday 9 – 5:30 pm and Saturday 9 – 4 pm. ALL locations closed on Sunday. If you need a lift chair, adjustable bed base, mattress set, recliner or any other furniture need, Pickup will be available. Delivery will not be available until further notice.”
Some area bars and restaurants responded to Gov. Burgum’s order to close last Friday by offering takeout or delivery for food or off sale orders.
Tracy Corum of 3rd Street Station in Rugby told the Tribune via social media message, “We have been offering meals to take home and cook and or bake. Times like this we need to think outside the box. Everyone is affected by this. So if we can do orders in bigger portions, it allows me to offer meals at a discounted price. Helps the buyer save and helps us generate some revenue as well. Win win for everyone. I feel if we can offer meal kits to families, it allows them to cook together and do family bonding over cooking.”
Corum added, “We are in scary times right now. I’m just glad we are allowed to offer to-go’s so us bars/restaurants can generate some cash flow. We are just blessed to live in Rugby. Rugby is amazing community and with them behind us little businesses I know we will all prevail.”
Northside Lounge owner Steven Mattern said via message, “The public has been very supportive and helpful in this difficult time. Our main adjustment is locking the doors and only having our drive through open for pickup of food orders and off sale. We also changed our hours to 11am-11pm to try to accommodate late night eaters.”
“As of now we are still offering our full menu. I would like to add that the support of our community and fellow businesses has made the difficult time much easier and would like to thank them,” Mattern added.
* Fifteen miles south of Rugby, the Balta Bar has made adjustments to offer meals and groceries to the public. Owner Stephanie Halvorson said via message, “We are offering to go food, off sale, and any grocery items we can order from our food service providers. We are taking this down time to do some renovations that we normally wouldn’t have time for.”
Halvorson added, “We are just trying to keep our heads above water not knowing for certain how long this will last. The community has been supportive. So we are willing to serve the public in any way we can and are so very thankful for our customers.”
Bonnie Berginski of Rockin’ Relics in Rugby said she’s also decided to use her no-customer time for maintenance work on the restaurant’s furniture and equipment and, if she has time, wood floor.
“People have been generous,” Berginski said. “Everyone’s been patient. They’re getting deliveries and curbside pickups.”
“So far, it’s obviously slower,” Berginski added. “We miss seeing our customers in their seats.”
Berginski said of some customers, “They come in to get their takeout order, they kind of look like the want to go have a chair. They miss the camaraderie and the friends they usually have lunch with.”
“That’s been the hard part for our regulars who come every day. I think they’re missing the interaction and being able to sit down and talk during lunch,” Berginski added.
Berginski said she was unsure about how long restrictions would last and how they would affect businesses in the long run. “We’re all in the same boat. Everyone’s worried financially – what’s going to happen, and it’s – fortunately, the restaurant business is slow all winter long, so now, it doesn’t feel that different yet, but it will when we’re used to having higher sales.”
Berginski said Rockin Relics’ menu is posted on Facebook. Rugby’s other restaurants also have menus posted on Facebook.
Some restaurants, such as Dakota Farms in Rugby, have modified their business hours. Dakota Farms is now open for takeout 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Others, such as Rugby’s Coffee Cottage Caf, have closed until further notice.
Angie Torres of Rancho Grande Mexican Restaurant said the full menu of lunch and dinner specialties is available for takeout. “Our hours haven’t changed,” she said.
Rugby Dairy Queen workers said the restaurant’s drive-through window was open for orders at the store or pick up orders called in ahead. The full menu is available, including frozen treats and cakes.
Leann Jundt, manager of Rugby’s Subway, said the restaurant’s lobby was open for orders. Although people should follow CDC guidelines for social distancing, Jundt said, “We haven’t had more than a few customers at a time to even tell them to do that.”
“A lot of people are ordering online and calling in,” Jundt said. “We have a Subway app. You can pay for your order and then all you have to do is walk in and grab your order. I think if people use that it’s easy, at all times,” Jundt said.
* Edited Friday, March 27, 2020 at 1:00 p.m.
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