Skip to content

Small Michigan business owners struggling, make plea to state

CLOSE

Mindi Priskey trains hockey players and figure skaters, working with them for hours as they prepare for their next competition. But since March, the ice arena where she works in Mt. Clemens has remained closed because of the coronavirus and corresponding executive orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

She was one of several small business owners and employees who told Michigan lawmakers during a legislative committee meeting Wednesday about the impact of the pandemic shutdown on their lives. 

The nearly three-hour legislative hearing focused little on infection rates, opinions from health experts or outbreak clusters popping up as schools and colleges reopen in Michigan. Instead, the business owners described their own desperate efforts to make a living while trying to keep customers safe. 

“I know this year and this pandemic is unlike any other. All businesses have made sacrifices,” said AJ Glowacki, who runs the Garden Ice Arena in St. Joseph. 

“I believe we can open safely, and I’m all for some middle ground.”

More: Whitmer on reopening gyms and theaters: ‘I’m not going to be bullied’

More: State fines United Shore, 5 other businesses for coronavirus-related violations

In mid-March, Whitmer issued orders for many businesses and facilities in the state to close to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19. Since then, bars, restaurants, casinos and other entities have been allowed to gradually reopen in certain areas of the state as long as they follow specific guidelines. 

But gyms, theaters, bowling alleys and other similar businesses are still not supposed to operate in much of Michigan. On Tuesday, Whitmer said she had no update on when any change would happen, adding she was “not going to be bullied” into allowing these businesses to reopen until health experts agreed it was safe to do so.

The governor acknowledged there is substantial financial pressure on these businesses, but the state would only make a change “based on facts and data.” 

Nearly 100,000 Michigan residents have contracted the coronavirus, and more than 6,400 have died, since the start of the pandemic, according to state health officials. 

While the seven-day average number of cases is down in Michigan compared to their peak in the spring, case averages are going up in some areas of the state. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said this week case rates are down in Detroit, Grand Rapids and other areas but up in the Saginaw and Traverse City regions. 

More: Michigan business leaders ask Whitmer to allow gyms, theaters, bowling alleys to reopen

More: Replay: Gov. Whitmer update on Michigan coronavirus response

Small business owners not yet allowed to open see other operations in Michigan and other states opening, despite ongoing coronavirus concerns, leaders of the Grand Rapids Chamber, Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Association of Michigan told lawmakers.

There should be an avenue for at least some of these businesses to try and reopen on a limited basis, the leaders said, echoing statements in a letter they sent to Whitmer last week.

“We aren’t saying that it’s safe to reopen all businesses without any sort of safety protocols in place and just say they should be able to go,” said Wendy Block, vice president of business advocacy for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. 

“But we are saying that with proper social distancing protocols and other safety protocols in place, gyms and movie theaters and bowling alleys and entertainment facilities and hockey arenas and all those in between…they shouldn’t all be forced to stay closed, either.”

Several speakers noted schools are allowed to reopen, arguing their businesses do not have nearly the same level of close personal interaction as a college or classroom. 

While the governor has deemed schools essential and pleaded with districts and colleges to require masks, there are examples of problems. Isabella County had to declare a health emergency because of a spike in coronavirus cases after Central Michigan University welcomed students back to campus. 

Some experts anticipate a spike in coronavirus as schools across the country, and in Michigan, offer face-to-face classes. Yet parents of high school athletes are planning a rally Friday outside the Michigan State Capitol, where they plan to call on Whitmer to allow all fall sports to compete. 

More: Pandemic or not: College students are going to be college students

More: Michigan’s Isabella County declares health emergency as CMU-related COVID-19 cases rise

Until recently, no business faced any fine from state health and safety inspectors for operating in violation of the executive orders. But last week, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited six entities for alleged violations of the coronavirus requirements for businesses. 

One of those companies was a gym in Saginaw, operating despite the fact it is not allowed to do so. 

Michelle Cooper owns Coop’s Iron Works, along with her husband, Rob. In a recent interview with the Free Press, she acknowledged receiving the citation and that the fitness center is in violation of state order by being open. 

“We’re not supposed to be running our business, but there’s no way we would have ever survived if we would have stayed closed for this long,” Cooper said. 

The gym’s website, and an automated message that played when a reporter called the gym’s phone number Wednesday, state the facility is still open. State officials said last week that local health officials and law enforcement are working on potentially closing down the business. 

Rep. Matt Hall, a Battle Creek Republican who chaired the committee meeting, said in a statement Wednesday after the hearing that the governor needs to work with businesses that are still closed to find a way for them to safely welcome back customers. 

“It’s disheartening to hear more stories of hardship and poor communication from Gov. Whitmer’s administration,” Hall said in the statement.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities and local economies. They have worked hard to reopen in a way that can keep their customers and staff safe. It would be nice to see that hard work reciprocated from Gov. Whitmer’s office.”

Other legislative Republicans criticized the executive order and called on changes from the administration. But Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-Lansing, argued consumer confidence is higher in Michigan than in many other states directly because the governor kept communities safe with her executive orders. 

“We certainly want all of these (businesses to reopen) and we want to do it a safe way. But we also have to make sure, at the same time, we don’t become a place where the politics of the situation actually influence what actually happens on the public health side, and then we actually lose all confidence in our economy,” Hertel said. 

More: Report: Michigan revenues surviving coronavirus pandemic much better than forecast

More: Michigan coronavirus cases: Tracking the pandemic

Some of the business owners who testified said they have little confidence they’ll still have a shop to open if rules do not change soon. 

The owner of an indoor go cart and entertainment center in Meridian Township told lawmakers he spent tens of thousands of dollars on updating his facility to reduce the chance of catching or spreading COVID-19. But he was told he can’t open because of executive orders he feels are confusing and constantly changing.

An Owosso gym owner said she offers outdoor classes, even in the rain, but winter weather will likely mean virtual classes and losing clients. 

The owner of a wedding venue outside Traverse City fought back tears when he talked about the impact of the economic shutdown on his family’s business — even though his business received some federal aid, the business had 43 cancellations or postpones at a cost of $750,000 or more this year. 

Susan Byrd, owner of Living Arts Dance Studio in Mason and Williamston, also cried as she told lawmakers about her efforts to safely teach students. 

The bills are piling up. The owners agreed that they’re doing what they can to stay afloat, but they’re running out of options.

“I am confused and concerned. I need some help,” Byrd said.

Contact Dave Boucher at dboucher@freepress.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.

Read or Share this story: https://www.freep.com/story/news/politics/2020/08/26/closed-michigan-business-owners-help-ice-rinks-whitmer/3441962001/

Source Article

Designed using Magazine News Byte. Powered by WordPress.