Kris Schiffler is so concerned about making ends meet as a business owner he's decided to add steep fines and a legal battle, neither of which he can afford.
On its face, that doesn't make much sense. But then, neither does Schiffler's stubborn insistence on opening for business at noon today, despite the threat of a lawsuit from Attorney General Keith Ellison.
Ellison's office has been in contact with Schiffler, who owns a chain of six Shady's bars, since Schiffler went public with plans to open today, two weeks before the June 1 reopen date for bars, restaurants, gyms, and salons. On Friday, Schiffler told an assistant attorney general he was aware opening would be in violation of an executive order. Over the weekend, an attorney for Schiffler repeated the same message.
Minnesota's stay-at-home order is expiring effective today, though people are still encouraged to stay home whenever possible and avoid crowds of 10 people or more. Gov. Tim Walz's administration is planning to issue conditions for how bars could safely reopen by Wedesday.
On Sunday night, Ellison filed an enforcement action against Schiffler and his businesses. If he does indeed open, Schiffler would be subject to fines of "up to $25,000 per occurrence."
The bar owner is quoted in the complaint against him as saying "you'd have a better chance of getting eaten by a timber wolf or a grizzly bear than getting COVID-19."
Schiffler, in turn, has plugged a GoFundMe acccount -- not to pay fines, but to pay for a legal fight to take his case to the state supreme court. (Just us, or does this seem like a lot of money and effort to reopen two weeks before everyone else does?) The fund soared past an initial goal of $100,000, and as of Monday morning is sitting at upwards of $175,000 and climbing.
As one excerpt from the GoFundMe message states:
"We want to ensure that this never, ever happens to any of us again. We want our rights, our freedom and our control back! These are our businesses we have worked so hard to build, we have to fight the fight. Any excess funds we receive will be used to help other small businesses in Minnesota. MN Strong!"
In a Facebook video posted Sunday, Schiffler, visibly emotional at the outpouring of financial support, thanked those who'd given and positioned his fight as one for small businesses and the hospitality industry as a whole.
Schiffler told viewers he'd be opening Shady's Hometown Tavern in Albany today, while promising to observe "social distancing" and other safety precautions. The owner said he'd made the decision after consulting with "law enforcement," though he declined to elaborate.
Shady’s Hometown Tavern in Albany will be open tomorrow, Monday, May 18th at Noon! We want to thank everyone for their...Posted by Kris R Schiffler on Sunday, May 17, 2020
Four of Schiffler's bars are in Stearns County, where Schiffler lives, which also happens to be a budding hotspot for the coronavirus. Through Sunday, the county's seen 1,713 cases and 10 deaths; its per capita rate of coronavirus is more than double that of Hennepin County, and triple Ramsey County's.
UPDATE: A large crowd of would-be customers showed up at the Shady's in Albany awaiting its noon reopening... only to discover Kris Schiffler had suddenly lost his nerve. (Though he did find a bullhorn.)
A tearful Shady’s owner Kris Schiffler says he’s not opening his bar and grill on advice of his attorney, after getting a call from MN Attorney General Keith Ellison. “They have shut us down.” pic.twitter.com/LfNumzsf6h— Kirsti Marohn (@kirstimarohn) May 18, 2020
It remains to be seen what this development means for his swollen GoFundMe account, which has gained another $20,000-plus in just the last few hours.