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County’s small communities return to life

By Staff | May 21, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Stephanie Halvorson stands near her menu board at the Balta Bar.

Residents of Pierce County’s smaller communities have slowly emerged from their isolation since Gov. Doug Burgum lifted restrictions on bars, restaurants and other businesses deemed “non-essential.”

The Pierce County towns of Wolford and Balta have a combined population of fewer than 100 residents. A third town, Selz, near the Wells County line, has 46 residents, according to 2010 federal census data.

Bars serve as hubs for business and social life in these communities, and the March order closing them for all but takeout purposes stopped opportunities for gathering cold.

“It was a boring six weeks,” said Tim Danielson, who tends bar at the Corrigidor in Wolford.

“It was very depressing,” customer Heather Stutrud agreed. “I got more depressed.”

“I really enjoy this place,” Stutrud said of the Corrigidor. “I have family (in Wolford), too. The COVID brought damage to all of us.”

Danielson said he was unemployed during the shutdown. “I had six weeks of doing nothing,” he said. “I’m happy to be back doing something.”

Danielson said customers were happy to come back, too.

“Customers are glad they can get out and about again. They can be with people,” Danielson noted.

Danielson said the Corrigidor complies with phase one of the North Dakota Smart Restart program that calls for dining rooms and bars to limit seating capacity and not allow customers to stand at counters.

The Corrigidor serves steaks and other specialties on weekends like it did before the closure, but customers now wait in their vehicles if the dining room has too many people or tables aren’t ready for seating, Danielson explained.

“It’s been busy,” he said. “We do 80 to 90 meals on Friday and Saturday. We watch it pretty close as far as how many people are at a table. You can have 10 at a table, but you can’t stand at the bar. We also don’t let them put tables together like they used to.”

“We sanitize everything as soon as somebody leaves,” Danielson added. “We sanitize tables and chairs and surfaces. Customers don’t complain about it, because they know what’s happening.”

As he served a beer to another customer, Danielson said, “This is going to last for a while. It’s not over yet.”

South of Rugby in Balta, Stephanie Halvorson, owner of the Balta Bar, said she used the mandated closure period as an opportunity to do some remodeling.

“We took out the carpet,” Halvorson noted. “We’ve got all wood floors now,” she added, pointing to the bar’s original wood floor, restored to a shiny finish. “We’ve got some reclaimed barn wood that we put up,” she added.

“There was a lot of polyurethane that we put on,” Halvorson said with a laugh. “Holy Hannah! It turned out really well, though.”

Halvorson said she has seen the Balta crowd slowly trickle back into her establishment. “It’s starting to pick up a little bit on weekends,” she said, “But with only half capacity, you don’t get the crowd you normally get. We’re making do with what we have, I guess.”

Halvorson said she makes sure to sanitize all surfaces and asks that people maintain social distancing. She has a hand sanitizing station near the bar’s door.

The bar now hosts bingo games on Sundays, sponsored by the Rugby Amateur Hockey Association. Halvorson offers a menu of sandwiches, sides and dinner items. During the bar’s closure, she offered cook-at-home meals and food items for locals to pick up.

“I would say there are fewer people coming in now,” Halvorson said, noting state health restrictions may not be to blame.

“It’s hard to say if it’s different because of that, because of the planting and seeding going on,” she said. “People are just busy right now because this is an agricultural community.”

“I think there might be (some hesitance to come back due to the pandemic), but I don’t think that’s the main reason,” Halvorson said.

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