(St. Cloud, MN) — After a series of bars in and around Stearns County made plans to open their doors after the weekend, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department released a statement that clarifies their stance on the opening of bars and restaurants on Monday, May 18th:

“On Wednesday, May 13th, Governor Tim Walz extended the emergency order related to COVID and opened several avenues for local businesses and changed the Stay at Home theme to a Stay Safe effort. When the new order takes effect on Monday, May 18th, salons, spas, bars or restaurants are still not allowed to open. A plan for these businesses should be provided by May 20th to possibly allow them to open June 1st.

The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office plan of action when responding to the Governor’s orders has been and will continue to be respectful education, explanation, and asking for cooperation and compliance. This approach has been a successful method thus far and people have been very understanding. The Sheriff’s Office will continue to follow this plan of action when responding to businesses opening in violation of the Governor’s order.

If a business refuses to close when asked, a police report will be generated, and the activity will be documented. This may result in state level licensing issues for establishments either through Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement or the Department of Labor Industries. Additionally, there may be regulatory actions at the county or municipal level regarding licensing. Businesses and bars/restaurants should be aware of these possibilities.

Business owners ordered to remain closed under the latest Governor’s order, 20-56, should clearly weigh the decision to open against the possible ramifications under these circumstances. Owners could face civil fines up to $25,000 per day, misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor criminal charges with resulting time in court, lawyers’ fees and fines, and licensing issues at the state, county and municipal level.”

Sheriff Steve Soyka stated, “In speaking with other law enforcement agencies, I can tell you with a level of confidence we feel for the small business owner and what they are experiencing. While we understand the need to open and survive as a business owner, we also cannot endorse or advocate for the open defiance of an order issued by the state. We cannot begin to understand the level of difficulty this has placed upon you and trying to stay in business. If a business can abide by the order for an additional 10 days until such time the state allows you to open, we strongly encourage you to do so.

We find ourselves in a difficult situation where we must balance public safety, the livelihood of the public, and the requirements of our Office. This is compounded by the fact the responsibility for enforcement lies with local authorities and has had or may have a negative impact on the relationships we have built as my Office continues to focus on community relations and partnering with our Stearns County businesses and residents.

If these businesses were to open on Monday, I would like to remind people it is your choice to do what is best for you and your health. Our goal is to work with the community and not against them. We want everyone to be safe and healthy.”

Kriss Schiffler, owner of Shady’s bar locations in New Munich, Rice, Albany, Burtrum, Cold Spring, and St. Martin, says he plans to open on Monday. He says all six locations have been offering to-go food but says they just can’t survive like that much longer. He has been garnering a lot of support for his decision on social media.