ST PAUL, Minn. — In the strangest way possible, the Minnesota Wild opened their home schedule on Friday night – in January, no less – without fans at the Xcel Energy Center.
“It feels so different,” Tom Kempe said, standing on West Seventh Street within view of the arena, “to be so close, yet so far away.”
As he looked at the quiet streets of St. Paul, Kempe couldn’t help but reminisce about the old days – pre-COVID-19 – when a Wild home opener would bring a surge of fans to the numerous restaurants around the X.
“This, right now, a normal game day, we wouldn’t be standing here,” Kempe said. “We’d be run over, packed with fans, people coming in from out of town.”
Without the ability to buy tickets, Kempe instead settled for a night of TV viewing at Tom Reid’s, one of the most popular spots on West Seventh for Wild fans. Tom Reid’s and other establishments opened about two weeks ago for indoor dining at half-capacity, after Gov. Tim Walz loosened restrictions that had relegated them to takeout-only in the late fall and early winter.
General Manager Kathy Gosiger said she’s thankful to have some customers back, even though the 50-percent rule limits her business.
“We may have to turn some people away, just because we’re following all the COVID guidelines, but we’re excited,” she said, expressing optimism that she may be able to fully reopen at some point in 2021. “We need to get our shots, our vaccines going, and I think our numbers are improving. I see that people are socially behaving and we do as well at the pub.”
Gosiger said she hopes that by spring or summer, restaurants may begin to approach some degree of “normalcy,” although that depends heavily on the vaccine rollout.
Fans like Tom Kempe are optimistic, albeit cautiously.
“Be thankful for the little things,” he said, “and with the vaccine, hopefully, maybe later, in a few months, we might see part of 18,001 fans at the Xcel.”