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Small business owners question state's reopening decisions

Massage centers must stay closed, but massages done at chiropractic offices are allowed, as one example. Businesses ask for a path for them to reopen as well.

MINNEAPOLIS — The opening of Minnesota's Largest Candy Store in Jordan, with approval by the state, is a tipping point of sorts for local small businesses that are still not allowed to reopen.

Business owners want to know, why is the state's biggest candy store allowed to open but many main street stores is not?

"It just seems like there's a whole double standard there," Mike Rathbun points out.

"There's never ever going to be 200 people passing through my doors in a single day," said Danielle Portinga, referring to the Candy Store's social distancing plan. "It is a bit hypocritical." 

Portinga owns Essentially Massage in Blaine. She says it's also hypocritical that her massage business can't reopen -- but massages done by a therapist in a chiropractic office are OK with state officials.

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"It is a little bit heart wrenching that if I did work for someone else, I could potentially still be working," she said.

And Mike Rathbun, co-owner of Freedom Cleaning Services in the North Metro, is frustrated he's not allowed to do home cleanings but other cleaning businesses are. 

"It does seem wrong to me," he said.

KARE 11 News doubled-checked with the cleaning companies in question – and they confirmed they have remained open -- they claim, with the state's permission.

But when Rathbun emailed the state to find out what's the difference, the state wrote back: "They should not be working. You should feel free to call local law enforcement."

"This is my responsibility to enforce the state's rules?" Rathbun said incredulously.

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State leaders declined an interview for this story but in an email noted they are "not giving exceptions" to certain businesses.

"We know that this has been a really challenging time for many businesses as the state navigates how to reopen various types of businesses while ensuring the health and safety of workers and customers. I would continue to direct you back to the thorough guidance provided in this document," a statement from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said.

An email from the Candy Store shows they were deemed an "essential business" by the state after the store owner argued they fall under the "category of a grocery store" selling food products from "very small local producers" as well as harvesting apples and squash.

"I have a whole bunch of wild raspberries that grow behind my office. So, would that make me an essential business?" Essentially Massage owner Portinga asked rhetorically.

Frustrated small businesses like Danielle's and Mike's just want to see a path for them to reopen as well.

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.