Businesses on Iron Range Work to Recover After Slower Summer Due to COVID-19

Businesses owners say they're keeping their heads up, while local officials say the Fall and Winter seasons look bleak.

VIRGINIA, Minn.- As it has everywhere, the pandemic has put a damper on business on the Iron Range this summer — a time when many businesses just began opening back up after three months shut down.

“It’s hard to know what’s going to happen with the virus,” Brooke Forseen, an employee at Canelake’s Candies in Virginia said. “It’s really just taking it day by day.”

But businesses owners say they’re keeping their heads up, relying on their communities of loyal customers to shop and help them out.

“Things have been a little bit slower here. We get a lot of calls because people are asking if the hall is open,” said Tom Brimsek, who runs the gift shop of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

A big attraction the Range, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth saw a slow start to their already shorter summer season, which started a month later in June. “It is already starting to pick up,” Brimsek said.

Due to the pandemic, the museum has had to limit what it offers attendees.

“We cannot offer our interactive stuff on the 3rd floor because requirements of disinfecting and stuff so we had to close those down,” he said.

Meanwhile, businesses across the Range, like Canelake’s Candies, are also having to deal with similar restrictions.

“Having like the plexiglass and different guidelines in place especially for customers like not being able to have them get their own self-serve candy or anything anymore,” said cashier Mary Skorich. “Just to kind of reduce the amount of interaction.”

But with tourism down this season, rather than deal with mandates and guidelines, many have simply shut their doors.

“When you ask me about tourism it’s been a blow to our city, our businesses are suffering significantly as a result,” Mayor of Virginia Larry Cuffe said. “We have some businesses in the Downtown area that are closing and likely will not reopen and the owners have some huge challenges.”

Mayor Cuffe said at the current rate, the fall and winter season are projected to be slow as well, leaving some of the businesses that are open in need of assistance to pay bills.

“Whether it’s their garbage bill or their electric bill or their water or sewer bill, whatever, if they don’t have, if they can’t survive and they can’t afford to pay for their services, as a community we have a obligation to try to make some adjustments,” he said.

According to the Mayor, thanks to financial aid and grants from the state and from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, they are still offering some aid through liquor license rebates, and forgivable loans for small businesses.

Help like that, he said, is just a part of the small town strength. “People are resilient in this community. They work together they help each other out they volunteer their time they help their neighbors out which is heartwarming for all of us.”

And employees at the candy shop said they see that sweetness from their customers.

“Our customers are usually really friendly,” said Forseen, “We are just trying to stay positive and the business has been good.”

Meanwhile, staff at the Hockey Hall of Fame say they are still hoping that area high schools will start their hockey season again, because that’s when their business picks up.

But Brimsek is happy to be sharing his love of the game — and hopefully a sense of normalcy — again. “I think it’s extremely important. I think for everybody in Minnesota, Hockey is the sport!”

And for those that are struggling, Mayor Cuffe says: “Hang in there. It’s easy for me as an elected official to say that because I don’t own a business in town.”

Businesses, he adds, that are too important to lose.

“Because those are longstanding businesses and wives, husbands, children, grandchildren, and we have to make sure that they can survive,” he said.

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