May 14—MANKATO — The sudden end of mask requirements in Minnesota left people joyful but in some cases still a bit wary.
"Everyone's jubilant," said Steve Wegman, owner of Weggy's on Campus and several other businesses across from the university.
"It's like there should be a parade or something to mark it."
Karla Shearman, of Cleveland, was at Sibley Park Friday with her friend Lisa Nelsen, of North Mankato, as their sons got together for a play date.
Both said they were happy to see the mask requirement end but still plan to be careful in the near future.
"I'll probably still wear mine in the grocery store or wherever, but I'm glad it's lifted," Shearman said.
While she's been vaccinated, she and her family still tend to stay in their small pod when going out and avoid big crowds.
Nelsen, who's also been vaccinated, said she and Shearman will still have concerns about their young sons, both 5, staying safe.
"It's hard because they're in school and day care, and you don't want a breakout with them."
Those under age 12 are not yet eligible to be inoculated against COVID-19.
Robert Rouchman was sitting outside in downtown Mankato and said he won't be wearing a mask anymore.
"It's nice not to have one on. I think a lot of people like not having to wear them."
While Gov. Tim Walz signed executive orders Friday lifting mask requirements indoors or outdoors, there remain some caveats and advice. Masks are still required in health care settings and on public transportation. Health officials are still encouraging mask wearing among those not fully vaccinated, but that guidance does not have the legal force of a mandate.
Businesses can still choose to set their own mask requirements.
The city of Mankato had passed a local mask mandate prior to the state ordering one. But the city mandate is no longer in effect as it ended in September. North Mankato said Friday that it had lifted its mandate.
Business ticking up
Andy Wilke, manager of River Hills Mall, said the mall will not have any additional requirements beyond anything that is in the governor's final executive order.
"Tenants may have other restrictions, but we won't have any in the common areas."
Wilke is glad to see things returning to a semblance of normalcy and said business has been steadily picking up in recent weeks as more people were vaccinated.
"We had a good uptick in traffic around Easter, which was nice. We had a couple new stores open and a couple more coming. And Cinemark (movie theater) is open seven days a week now. They were only open three days a week, so that's nice."
He said that with more retail vacancies here and across the country, rental rates have come down and are attracting attention.
"After COVID, a lot of retailers are looking for opportunities and there are attractive rental rates. We want to make sure we fill those spaces so there's an opportunity to get people in the mall at attractive rates and to help them grow."
Blair Folkens, one of the owners of Sleepy Eye Brewing, said they have seen more people getting out.
"We're very happy about the mask mandate being lifted. People are more comfortable going out now, and they can go out and do what they're comfortable with."
Folkens said business has started to improve. "The market is slower but we're seeing things pick up the last few weeks. It helps that the weather got nice and people are out and about."
Wegman, too, said the nicer weather has bumped up business, and he's looking forward to having things back to normal. He said the biggest hurdle businesses face as customers return is trying to find enough employees, as an unemployment bonus continues until September.
For now though, he's just a bit giddy. "I really do feel like you're like a little kid getting out on summer vacation."
Looking back at the past 15 months, Wegman said it's still hard to grasp what the country has gone through.
"I remember last March and looking at our restaurant being closed and thinking, 'Who would ever imagined this could happen?' It's been a learning experience. I guess we can never take anything for granted."