TAKING A STAND
Larvita McFarquhar has owned and operated Havens Garden Bar and Restaurant in Lynd since 2017.
Even though it's a large, clean restaurant, owning a business in a town of less than 450 people can be a challenge. And during the coronavirus pandemic period, McFarquhar and other small business owners have faced a struggle to show a profit.
When Gov. Tim Walz issued a second shutdown for bars and restaurants recently, McFarquhar had heard enough and decided to fight back.
The single mother of four daughters, all who assist in running the business, decided to defy his executive order that establishments such as Havens Garden must be closed to indoor service. On Nov. 19, she went on Facebook and invited people to come to her place for fun, food and drinks in a promotional video.
The video message was captioned "Live Music and Food next Friday night. Come have fun with the Great Tommy Rex or sing your own tunes during Open Mic.”
McFarquhar then announced on the video message: "Hi! I’m here at Havens Garden asking everyone to join us November 27 from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. for Open Mic Night. Come down and have a good time here at Havens Garden in Lynd, Minnesota."
Shortly after, a Lyon County Sheriff's Deputy phoned McFarquhar to ask if she was aware of the governor's mandate in which bars and restaurants must be closed except for takeout of curbside service."I was well aware of it," she told the Mascot. "But I asked (the deputy) if he was aware that the mandate is not a law? I told him that the governor can't pass laws and (law enforcement personnel) are supposed to uphold the Constitution. I told him that he doesn't work for the governor; he works for the people.”
"The governor doesn't have the authority or power to shut down my business or any business for no reason. He is just picking and choosing who can stay open and who can't stay open. It's ridiculous," she added.
McFarquhar was told that if she opened on the date she was promoting, she could face penalties such as a fine and/or jail time.
A letter was then sent to McFarquhar on Monday (Nov. 23) from Attorney General Keith Ellison's office that basically referred to similar action. The letter, written by Assistant Attorney General Noah Lewellen, read in part:
“Emergency Executive Order 20-99 empowers this Office to investigate and take action against businesses or persons that are operating or threatening to operate in violation of the Order. As the chief legal officer for the State of Minnesota, the Attorney General has authority to file a civil enforcement action seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each and every occurrence Executive Order 20-99 is violated, as well as its attorney’s fees and costs.”
"Besides telling me that I could face a $25,000 fine if I opened, they said anyone who came to my place that night could be fined $1,000," McFarquhar said. "These threats didn't matter to me. I know my rights as a citizen and as a business owner."
Soon after, McFarquhar posted another video on Facebook, informing any guests that they could face a $1,000 fine if they showed up on Friday night.
"I want to thank everyone who is willing to come out, but I want them to know that there is a possibility that they will be fined $1,000 if they show up. So please make your decisions wisely, that if you would love to come down and support me, which I would love, but I want you to be aware that you can be fined $1,000.”
McFarquhar, a black conservative, went through with her promise to keep her Havens Garden bar open Friday night. There were no law enforcement personnel on hand to make arrests and no protests outside her business from those wanting her to remain closed.
"Just a nice fun evening with around 100 people showing up," she said. "I was planning to be open from 9 to 11 p.m., but people came earlier to support me so we opened at 8 and they stayed until around midnight. I can't believe how much love and support I've been getting. It's been overwhelming."
McFarquhar maintains social distancing at her business with tables six feet apart and limiting four people to a table unless they are together as a family.
"All the workers wear masks and gloves," she noted. "And we make sure only one person touches the money. We wash everything down before and after people come here. We don't want anyone to get sick."
The disc jockey that was hired for the evening decided against playing on Friday night after being threatened with a possible $2,500 fine and/or jail time. A second local disc jockey McFarquhar asked to play that night accepted.
McFarquhar may still face fines or jail time, but she is ready to accept whatever happens.
"My daughters are my life," she said. "And I talked to them about this. They all help me (at Havens Garden) cooking, serving, cleaning or whatever else needs to be done. They told me they fully supported me and that's all I needed to hear. That meant the world to me."
Because no one from the Lyon County Sheriff's Department showed up that night, McFarquhar feels it was a case of reverse discrimination.
"If anything, I feel it was racist against white people," she said. "If I was white, I think they would have arrested or fined me. But the way things are today, they didn't want the news of shutting down a single black woman's business."
McFarquhar then noted that she is going through a tough time financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"When the governor shuts down our businesses, we still have bills to pay like taxes, insurance, rent, utilities," she said. "And then to be threatened with a big fine on top of that. It's just unbelievable. It should be up to each business owner if they want to stay open or not. And it is the right of the people if they want to go to these places or not."
McFarquhar, who is from Marshall, first opened a gymnastics club and dance studio in 2016 in the same building as the then-closed restaurant known as Chuck's Kitchen. She opened the restaurant the following year and re-named it Havens Garden.
"I wanted it to be a safe haven for people to come and enjoy," she explained. "The gym and dance studio are still open Monday thru Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The kids can play in the gym and relieve some stress. And we serve food during those times, too."
McFarquhar has attracted a lot of publicity since defying the governor; mostly positive. She has been interviewed by several print and broadcast media personnel. While she is happy to get her message out, McFarquhar wasn't trying to attract attention for her business.
"I just felt it was time that we the people stand up and say, ‘No, we’re not going to agree with these outrageous demands," she said in a defiant voice. We're all in this together as small business owners. We need to support one another.”