TRAVERSE CITY — The announcement was unexpected, but welcome.
Jeff Guntzviller of Miner’s North Jewelers was doing home improvement shopping when he learned that retail businesses and restaurants will be allowed to reopen in the region as of 12:01 a.m. Friday.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made the announcement early Monday afternoon. The executive order affects Michigan regions 6 and 8, which include 17 counties in the northern Lower Peninsula and the entire Upper Peninsula.
“It’s pretty awesome,” said Guntzviller, general manager and one of the owners of Miner’s North Jewelers, 222 E. Front St. “I think it’s good that they looked at everything regionally. I’m surprised we’re opening before May 29, but it’s definitely good news.”
Retailers and restaurants across the region hope the reopening — the Friday of Memorial Day weekend — will allow them to get a running start on the summer tourist season.
Whitmer’s decision to allow dining rooms to reopen, at 50 percent capacity, came earlier than some restaurateurs had predicted.
“We were not expecting it, and we are scrambling,” Shana Minish, co-owner of Terrain restaurant in Bellaire, said Monday afternoon. “We’re planning to open on Friday, probably with a somewhat limited menu, just based on what we can get.”
Meals can’t be cooked without ingredients. Most restaurants rely heavily on companies that warehouse and distribute everything from beef and chicken to garlic and endive. It may take some time to get all the trucks filled and rolling across the region.
“I know it’s a scramble on the food distributors’ part,” Minish said.
Minish said she and her brother, Terrain co-owner Randy Minish, have developed business relationships with local suppliers, and that should help get the restaurant up and running. Sourcing local food will help as distributors rebuild their networks.
“We were talking, ‘OK, we’ll reach out to the guy we know has pork. We know somebody who does commercial processing of venison,’” Shana Minish said.
Terrain’s menu likely will need to adjust to what edibles it can source as commerce accelerates.
“We’re going to be open-minded and flexible and kind of roll with it,” said Minish. “It’s a little early to get local produce, so there are some concerns there.”
Retailers, too, will need to adjust during this reopening period.
“Our region’s small businesses have lost two big days — Easter and Mother’s Day — due to the pandemic already,” Golden Shoes owner Bill Golden said in a release. “It will save many businesses by being open this Memorial Day weekend. Without this decision to start reopening, our region could have lost more retailers and restaurants. I know that we, and other businesses, have spent the last month preparing and are ready to take all the necessary precautions to keep our customers and employees safe.”
Guntzviller said Miner’s North was fortunate to receive assistance early in the COVID-19 pandemic. So Miner’s North staff has been putting procedures in place, has disinfecting solutions available, and installed divider shields for the sales counter and the repair window.
“We’re completely ready,” Guntzviller said. “We got a Paycheck Protection Program loan really early so we haven’t had to lay anybody off. We have all the supplies.”
Miner’s North enjoyed a brisk curbside business when it was allowed, which helped the business through Mother’s Day.
The retail and restaurant industries are welcoming the chance to reopen, despite restrictions.
“We’ve been actively engaged with state government to show that our businesses are committed to partnering with public health and ready to follow workplace standards, such as those outlined in today’s executive order, to avoid a second wave,” Traverse Connect President and CEO Warren Call said in a release after Whitmer’s announcement.
“This is a great first step,” Bill Hallan, president and CEO of the Michigan Retailers Association, said in another release.
Guntzviller said Miner’s North staff will wear masks inside the store when it reopens. He said the store will have a concierge station at the entrance to review protocol with shoppers and even retrieve items if customers are not comfortable entering the store. Masks and hand sanitizer will be available for customers.
“We’re following every single protocol and will do everything that’s recommended,” Guntzviller said.
“We’ve been taking precautions and gearing up for when the day would come,” said Joe Short of Short’s Brewing Company. “We knew it would probably be with distance measures in place, so we’ve eliminated about 50 percent of our seating.”
He said they’ve physically removed about half of the tables and chairs in the Bellaire pub’s dining rooms, which used to seat 135.
The pub has utilized a skeleton crew to offer to-go service.
Short put out a call to more employees Monday afternoon, inviting them back to work, and said the pub also is actively hiring. But the results of those efforts were uncertain as of Monday evening.
“We’re really not sure what to expect, because a lot of people are viewing the governor’s order, and the whole pandemic, quite differently,” said Short. “We’re just going to try to ease into this and hope for the best, and first and foremost make sure everyone is safe.”
Conforming to safety guidelines will add extra challenge to every segment of the economy. But Friday will bring relief to business owners.
“We’ve been struggling through this. We closed down for awhile,” said Michael Nygren, owner of The Iron Skillet in Mancelona.
Then the restaurant reopened for takeout. He’s anxiously preparing for a Friday reopening.
“We’re definitely excited to get back to work and start making money again — because we all need it. Not just myself, but the employees.”
Nygren normally maintains a winter payroll of 10 to 15 workers. Staff strength dipped during the stay-at-home period.
“It’s been down to basically just me,” said Nygren. “We took advantage of our time to do some remodeling and cleaning and focus on the restaurant.”
Joe Evans, one of two general managers at the Empire Village Inn, is excited to reopen the restaurant’s dining room on Friday. He also realizes adjustments will be necessary.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking. We have to come up with a plan,” he said.
Whitmer’s executive order requires restaurants to file documents with the state that outline coronavirus-related efforts.
“We were kind of planning on this happening,” said Evans. “There have been rumors — whether it’s going to be 25 percent capacity or 50 percent capacity, or whatever it might be. But we just never knew what that was going to look like.”
“Hearing it is exciting,” Evans said. “We have to get our nose to the grindstone to figure out a plan for what we’re doing.”