COVID-19 one year later: Varying impacts on Michigan businesses

NOW: COVID-19 one year later: Varying impacts on Michigan businesses

BUCHANAN, Mich. -- One year ago almost to the day, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued her first executive order relating to the pandemic – declaring a state of emergency in Michigan.

Over the next 12 months, hundreds more orders would be signed, Republican legislators would succeed in fighting Whitmer’s use of executive emergency powers, while countless Michigan business owners were just trying to keep the lights on.

From retail, to construction, to manufacturing – nearly all industries were under some sort of shutdown by March 2020.

The two industries hit the hardest – restaurants and entertainment.

“They had to live or die by a press conference to find out how these orders were going to affect them and often they were confusing, contradictory, seemingly arbitrary,” said Arthur Havlicek, President & CEO of the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber.

Places like movie theaters, bowling alleys and roller rinks stayed completely closed until October, opening with restrictions for only five weeks until they were shut down again for another month.

At Galaxy Roller Rink in Niles, owner Amy Kidwell had a tough choice. She could try and reopen, or go under.

“I was trying to do what’s right which is keeping these kids off the streets, keep my business open, employed,” said Kidwell.

Kidwell got hit with a misdemeanor and a $15,000 penalty. Her criminal charge has since been dropped, but she’s still fighting the fine.

“The other is vindicating Galaxy that we did no wrongdoing, there was no intent to hurt the public or to put anyone’s lives in danger,” said Kidwell.

Meanwhile, restaurants spent six of the last 12 months closed to diners. 

It’s been devastating to the industry, but some have been able to adapt.

Silver Beach Pizza in St. Joseph turned their parking lot into a curbside pickup zone allowing customers to dine in or carry out.

The only business in Southwest Michigan to take on this unique challenge. 

“The silver lining in the pandemic is that it changed the way we do our carry out and the question came up, ‘Are we going to go back to the old way we did carry out, are we going to make people find a place to park, pick up their pizza and go back to their car?’ No, we can’t, this is so nice,” said co-owner Jim Costas.

As restrictions begin to lift, the future is looking brighter for businesses.

But it could take years to recover Michigan’s local economies.

“Businesses need three things to survive - consumers, cash flow and certainty,” said Havlicek. “For the last year, businesses have had to go without all three and still to this day many are going without two or three.”

One challenge Southwest Michigan faces is direct competition across the state line in less restrictive Indiana.

“Michigan has been unique, it has truthfully been an outlier when it comes to our restrictions,” said Havlicek. “When the executive orders were deemed unconstitutional, there were over 170 that were issued, that was about one a day since the very first one in March.”

The Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber has joined with others in the state to continue to push for Michigan to adopt a regional approach to restrictions.

Some chambers have also formed a coalition to request the state lift its remote work mandate on April 14, saying getting people back in their offices is a vital part of businesses ecosystem.

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