By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As Minnesota lawmakers debate a relief plan, small business owners play a waiting game.

Since the start of the pandemic, the hospitality industry has struggled. And this latest “pause” to indoor dining and bar service has left many restaurants with a huge financial loss.

Darby’s Pub and Grill sits in the heart of the Minneapolis’s North Loop neighborhood. Area businesses, apartment homes, Target Field and Target Center have helped keep Darby’s full, until COVID-19 forced inside dining and drinking to stop. Marcus Dorn owns Darby’s.

“It’s very, very difficult when all you’re doing is to-go food,” Dorn said. “Everybody knows the profit margin is in the booze.”

He has more than 15 employees sitting at home waiting for the pause to end, but he doesn’t believe he will be asking them back anytime soon.

“Do we need some relief from the government? Heck yes,” Dorn said.

He is hoping Gov. Tim Walz will provide relief to small business owners like himself who are barely hanging on.

“The longer he keeps us shut down, the quicker that it needs to get done,” Dorn said. “Not just from my stand point as a business owner, but for my employees, too.”

He says he understands the need to keep Minnesotans safe.

“Based on what he’s done in the past, and especially with Christmas being next week and New Year’s the following week, it would not surprise me one bit,” he said. “I think all of us in this industry are expecting him to extend it through the New Year.”

What’s frustrating for Dorn is looking at his empty bar and knowing Minnesotans are crossing the border into Wisconsin where they can eat and drink inside a bar or restaurant.

“As a Minneapolis bar owner, and seeing how well the Hudson bar owners are doing, obviously you’re jealous and you wish that was you, and hopefully it ends sooner rather than later,” Dorn said.

For now, all he can do is wait and hope there is light at the end of this dark tunnel.

“That’s been the million-dollar question for all of us from the start,” Dorn said. “We don’t know where the finish line is to this thing.”

Walz plans to announce Wednesday whether he will extend the “pause” past its Friday expiration date.

Reg Chapman