AG Keith Ellison files suit against Stearns County bar owner who plans to open

Bars and restaurants are still subject to a mandatory shutdown due to COVID-19.

Attorney General Keith Ellison has filed a lawsuit against the owner of a Stearns County bar ahead of its planned reopening on Monday.

Ellison announced Sunday evening that his office is suing Kris Schiffler, the owner of Shady's Bar and Restaurant which has locations in Albany, Burtrum, Cold Spring, New Munich, Rice, and St. Martin.

Schiffler has announced his intention to reopen his Albany bar even though Gov. Tim Walz has extended the mandatory shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic to the end of May at least.

He has also been encouraging other local businesses to follow suit, despite Stearns County having the second largest number of confirmed COVID cases in the state and with Minnesota not yet at its expected peak of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Ellison argues that reopening early "would be both dangerous to the public health" as well as violating Gov. Walz's executive order, which can lead to fines of up to $25,000.

"Despite initially indicating agreement to delay opening, the owner again publicly stated today that he intends to defy the Governor’s Executive Order and reopen tomorrow despite the public-health risk," Ellison said Sunday.

Gov. Walz has said that he is in talks with the hospitality industry ahead of possible reopening on June 1, but says that guidance for how restaurants can do this as safely as possible is expected to be published by May 20.

Earlier on Sunday, a group of GOP lawmakers wrote to Ellison, questioning his decision to "threaten" businesses with fines for reopening, claiming that the governor is "picking winners and losers" and putting businesses at risk, which Ellison could exacerbate by levying fines.

Local police, namely the Stearns County Sheriff's Office, has said it will take an "education first" approach to bars reopening, but warned it could escalate matters if owners are non-compliant.

A GoFundMe page has been launched on behalf of Shady's to help raise the money for any legal costs arising out of Schiffler's decision to reopen, which as of Sunday evening has reached $168,000.

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In a post Sunday afternoon, Schiffler said on Facebook he's planning on opening up the Albany location with social distancing measures in place.

"We want to ensure that this never, ever happens to any of us again. We want our rights, our freedom and our control back!" the GoFundMe page says.

"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.

"Provided the opportunity to reopen our businesses, we will respect the CDC social distancing guidelines and follow any necessary restrictions. The health and safety of our SHADY's customers, employees and community members is of the utmost importance to us."

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