Several Northland businesses, mostly bars and restaurants, said they would reopen Wednesday, despite an order extending the ban on indoor dining until Jan. 10 to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Mike Arriola, owner of Lemon Wolf Cafe in Beaver Bay, added his restaurant to the list of more than 94 businesses that pledged to defy Gov. Tim Walz’s restrictions. He said he’d been offering takeout since indoor and outdoor dining closed last month amid rising COVID-19 cases, but it wasn’t sustainable.

“I had been following what I was told to follow — doing the curbside, doing the takeout, doing some delivery, trying to just do what I can,” Arriola said. “But the bills don’t stop, my utilities don’t quit, my rent don’t quit and I don’t have a whole lot of choice but to (reopen).”

As for the $242 million small-business relief package signed by Walz on Wednesday, which will offer direct payments to bars, restaurants, convention centers, movie theaters and other types of businesses? Too little, too late, Arriola said.

SEE ALSO: Here's what you need to know about Minnesota's $242M aid package for workers, businesses

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“Nobody realizes how hard it is to get that money that they say they have available to us,” Arriola said.

Another Beaver Bay restaurant, Tracks N Racks, also reopened for in-person dining Wednesday. Owner Jason Barstow said he hasn't and won’t accept any government aid, even though revenue is down 80%.

“We’re a small business, we can’t afford to keep being stomped on all the time,” Barstow said. “I can sit here right now, talking to you, and I can watch 50 people an hour walk in and out of the gas station across the street. But I can’t feed a family of four on a table that we wash down after everybody gets up and leaves.”

But health officials say restaurants and bars have been a driving force in the spread of COVID-19. When the ban on indoor and outdoor dining was announced on Nov. 18, the state said it traced back 3,200 COVID-19 cases to restaurants and bars since June.

And since the closure almost one month ago, the number of new daily cases and testing positivity rates have fallen, though both still remain well above pre-surge figures.

In a statement Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison warned of the dangers reopening indoor dining could bring.

“You’re putting people at risk. People will get sick and die because of you,” Ellison said. “Not only from COVID-19: If someone has a heart attack or a stroke or a car accident and dies because they can’t get an ICU bed that’s being used by someone who got COVID at your establishment, or got it from someone who got it at your establishment, that death is also on you.”

But none of the owners reopening their businesses interviewed by the News Tribune were concerned the virus would spread at their business. Social distancing and cleaning precautions would still be taken, they said.

“We are very safe and very conscious of that,” said Kristen Sawyer, owner of Board & Brush, a do-it-yourself sign workshop in Duluth that vowed to reopen early. “I have taken all the precautions to prevent that, and we can open safely.”

Ellison also warned of legal action the state can take against businesses that defy the orders, including fines, revocation of licenses and criminal penalties.

Still Sawyer plans to reopen her studio this weekend when she hosts a workshop Sunday.

“I think that the repercussions of not coming forward and standing up are worse than a fine because I’m at risk of losing everything I have, everything I’ve built,” Sawyer said.

Both Arriola and Sawyer said they’ve been receiving calls and messages all day from people angry over their reopening and pledging not to ever visit their business again. Others have reached out to offer them support for reopening.

“I don’t want people to think that I think that I’m above the law — because I’m not,” Arriola said. “I just want people to understand: I have a business to run, I have bills to pay, I have my family to take care of. If I can’t do this, if you take my livelihood from me, I mean, what am I supposed to do?”

Although Bricks Pub & Grub in Wrenshall is on the list of businesses that planned to reopen early, a person answering the phone Wednesday afternoon told a reporter they were just doing takeout right now and “waiting for what the governor has to say.”

Other Northland businesses that have said they would reopen despite orders barring indoor dining, according to a list from the ReOpen Minnesota Coalition, but did not respond to the News Tribune’s requests for comment Wednesday:

St. Louis County

  • The Shack

  • The Hydeaway

  • One other unnamed restaurant or bar

Carlton County

  • Rendezvous Sports Bar and Grill

  • Two other unnamed restaurants or bars