MOORHEAD — Moorhead Mayor Shelly Carlson is launching a new way for residents to support local restaurants that have been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carlson is rebranding an idea which originated from West Allis, Wis. Mayor Dan Devine. After hearing about Devine's "Cash Mob West Allis" from a friend, Carlson started "Cash Mob Moorhead" as a way of highlighting local restaurants and rallying support behind them.

The term "cash mob" is a spin on "flash mob," Carlson explained. "(Instead of) a bunch of people coming to one area and dancing, it's a bunch of people giving a lot of cash to a restaurant to try to help them get through this pandemic," she said.

Grappling with the initial COVID-19 shutdown as well as subsequent capacity restrictions and limitations on operating hours, the restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.

In addition to a statewide mask mandate, Minnesota restaurants are still subject to capacity restrictions and hours limits, which is why Carlson decided to adapt Devine's idea to Moorhead.

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"I really thought it was a great idea considering the fact that our restaurants aren't up to 100% capacity and they can't stay open past 11 p.m.," she said. "That was one of the reasons that I really wanted to highlight and get a lot of cash flowing to different restaurants across our community."

Carlson plans to call attention to a new restaurant on the Tuesdays following the Moorhead City Council’s bi-monthly meetings. Her first stop is Tuesday, April 27, at Legends Sports Bar and Grill.

Carlson plans to dine at each of the restaurants, but her goal is for other residents of the Fargo-Moorhead area to do the same.

"This is just a way to help people realize that our restaurants are still struggling and to get people to go out and experience all of our great restaurants in Moorhead," she said. "I will be there, but it's really an opportunity for citizens to get to know these businesses and restaurant owners and get some cash flowing to them."

Carlson said that even as the pandemic comes to a conclusion, businesses in Minnesota are still struggling to make up ground lost during a brutal 2020.

"It's really challenging for them. This has been going on now for a year and on the Minnesota side they're not really able to fully open," she remarked. "They've had to do a lot of pivoting and they still are struggling."

Thus far, Carlson said, the response from the public has been "overwhelmingly positive and people are really on board." She has even seen local offices plan lunch meetings following her initial announcement of Cash Mob Moorhead.

Carlson added that the city has been fortunate to be able to offer funds from state and federal grants to help keep businesses afloat. The city and the state have also been working on creative and innovative ways to support businesses.

One such example, Carlson said, was expanding outdoor seating onto sidewalks and parking lots during the warmer months, an area which is usually state-regulated.

"We're trying to figure out ways that they can maybe continue to do that in the future, especially during this time where they can't have full capacity inside their restaurant," she said. "Hopefully we’ll be able to continue that this summer under the governor's emergency orders and continue to help find ways for them to remain open, remain in business and continue to flourish."

Presuming vaccinations trends continue — both North Dakota and Minnesota rank among the top 20 nationally in vaccines administered per capita — Carlson is hoping 2021 will be a better year than 2020.

Another point in Moorhead's favor, Carlson noted, is the city's connection to its local businesses.

"One thing that Moorhead has is that we have a strong loyalty to our businesses and we want businesses to come over her and we want them to stay open," she said.

Either through the cash mob or in other ways, Carlson called on Moorhead residents to support their local businesses. "Supporting a local business means that you're supporting your neighbors, supporting your community and it helps with bringing tax dollars to our community," she said. "It's what makes a community."

Readers can reach InForum reporter Thomas Evanella at tevanella@forumcomm.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasEvanella