Desperate Michigan business owners, running out of options, make an emotional appeal to the state


Mindi Priskey trains hockey players and figure skaters, working with them for hours as they prepare for their next competition. But since March, the rink where she works at Mt. Clemens has remained closed due to the coronavirus and corresponding executive orders from Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

She was one of many small business owners and employees who briefed Michigan lawmakers at a legislative committee meeting on Wednesday on the impact of the pandemic shutdown on their lives.

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

“I know this year and this pandemic is like no other. All companies 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 common ground.”

In mid-March, Whitmer ordered many state businesses and facilities 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 similar businesses are still not supposed to operate in much of Michigan. On Tuesday, Whitmer said she had no update on when a change would occur, adding that she was “not going to be bullied” into allowing these businesses to reopen until that health experts agree it was safe to do so.

The governor acknowledged that there is significant financial pressure on these companies, 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 pandemic began, according to state health officials.

While the seven-day average case count is down in Michigan from its peak in the spring, case averages are rising in some areas of the state. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical officer, said this week that case rates were down in Detroit, Grand Rapids and other areas, but up in the Saginaw and Traverse City areas.

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

There should be a way for at least some of those businesses to try to reopen on a limited basis, executives said, echoing statements in a letter they sent to Whitmer last week.

“We’re not saying it’s safe to reopen every business without any sort of safety protocol in place and just saying they should be able to go,” said Wendy Block, vice president of business defense. for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

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

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

As the governor deemed schools essential and pleaded with districts and colleges to require masks, trouble arose. Isabella County had to declare a health emergency due to a spike in coronavirus cases after Central Michigan University welcomed students to campus.

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

Until recently, no company was subject to fines from state health and safety inspectors for violating the executive orders. But last week, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited six entities for alleged violations of coronavirus requirements for businesses.

One such business was a gym in Saginaw, operating despite not being licensed to do so.

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

“We’re not supposed to run our business, but we would never have survived if we had been closed for this long,” Cooper said.

The gym’s website and an automated message played when a reporter called the gym’s phone number on Wednesday say the facility is still open. State officials said last week that local health officials and law enforcement were working toward the potential closure of the business.

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

“It’s disheartening to hear more stories of hardship and miscommunication from Governor 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 great to see this hard work from from Governor Whitmer’s office.”

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

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

Some business owners said they weren’t convinced they would still have a store to open if the rules didn’t change soon.

The owner of an indoor cart and entertainment center in Meridian Township told lawmakers he spent tens of thousands of dollars upgrading his facilities to reduce the risk of catching or spreading the virus. COVID-19 there. But he’s been told he can’t open because of executive orders he finds confusing and ever-changing.

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

The owner of a wedding venue outside Traverse City fought back tears as he spoke about the impact of the economic shutdown on his family’s business. Even though his business has received federal assistance, the company has had 43 cancellations or postponements at a cost of $750,000 or more this year.

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

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

“I’m confused and worried. I need help,” Byrd said.


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