Traffic is starting to trickle back into Shakopee’s downtown businesses — a welcome sight for business owners who have long-awaited getting their customers back.

Shakopee’s restaurants can use the city’s public parking as patio space under a city administrative order, giving them the ability to reopen in compliance with Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19 restaurant guidelines.

The order also allows local businesses and shops to use their outdoor green spaces for customer service without needing to apply for a variance.

Many business owners shared the sentiment that while the ability to open is nice, they still aren’t back to normal. And for most of them, adjusting to a “new normal” will be costly until restrictions loosen. For now, birthdays will have to be celebrated on parking lots made into patios, and clothing sales can move to the sidewalks.

It was humid and 90 degrees at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 1, and Tom Austin was sipping on hot coffee from a Styrofoam cup on patio furniture outside Shakopee’s Wampach's restaurant. It had been three months since restaurants in Minnesota could open for dine-in, and June 1 marked the first day they could open — with outdoor seating only.

Austin ordered breakfast for dinner, because why wouldn’t he? It’s Wampach’s. Their specialty is breakfast.

“The only thing I want more than a meal is a haircut,” Austin joked, his light hair unfurling underneath his hat.

Austin and his dinner date, Diane Zimmer, both live in Prior Lake, and came to Wampach’s for a meal they didn’t have to cook, with dishes they didn’t have to clean.

Across the patio — which was actually just the Wampach’s parking lot that was being used as a makeshift seating area for customers who wanted to be waited upon — the Jackson family was celebrating a birthday, and even though the two families accounted for the only occupied tables at the restaurant, the Jackson family’s laughter was a welcome sound. They said eating outside isn’t a far cry from ordering takeout, but it was nice to get out of the house.

Robert and his wife ordered country fried steak, and they shared it — because “that’s what spouses are for, right?”

Across town, the Robbins family came from Lakeville to order a giant margarita and dine on Mexican food at Pablo’s. The family has been eating at the restaurant regularly for more than a decade. 

Across the highway, a quiet indoor restaurant opened up to a patio with glass-clinking and chatter at Dangerfield’s. Betsy and Jamie Philipp, Missie Rosenbaum and 3-year-old Parker said they didn’t care how hot it was outside: they wanted to get out and support their local business owners. And they’ve been friends with the owners of Dangerfield’s for years.

They dined on chicken and pork kabobs and sipped on lemonade and iced tea as they looked out over the pond.

Shops reopened last weekend

John Schroers, the owner and sole employee of 1st Ave. Picture Framing, helped answer a customer’s questions about custom frames from behind his workshop table. In between sentences, his phone rang two or three times. He apologized for the interruption, which was a good thing — it meant there was business.

The emotion was evident on Schroers' face when he talked about the last few months of operating a shut-down business.

“The last few months have been painful,” he said. “I’ve never officially closed, and I’ve operated by appointments only. Now, we aren’t back to normal, but we have an income now.”

Schroers is also a part-time bus driver with a wife who works full-time, which helped supplement the income loss.

He expressed his frustration in being forced to shut his doors.

“If Walmart can operate, I can operate,” Schroers said.

Mo Adel, an employee at Shakopee Tobacco and E-Cig, said the store opened at 50% capacity May 18, but the business is nothing like what it used to be. During mid-afternoon on May 19, one or two customers trickled in.

“But people were happy we’re back open,” he said.

Down the street, a customer at Bill’s Toggery checked out a box of shoes. The inventory at the store consists mostly of formal and work clothing. But the shoes were house clogs.

“We’ve been selling a lot of these,” Billy Wermerskirchen, the owner of Bill’s Toggery, said.

But he added the store has also sold quite a few wedding and funeral suits, and customers still come in to be fitted for suits because most department stores still aren’t offering those services.

Unlike most shops downtown, Bill’s Toggery was able to remain open on a limited basis because it offers dry cleaning services, which are considered essential. Shelly Brinkhaus, a tailor who runs Shelly’s Boutique which is connected to Bill’s Toggery, has been making masks for $8 each.

“I have people coming in every day, but just to buy masks, and then they leave,” she said.