CADILLAC — Today is the day many businesses in Northern Michigan have been waiting for.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the partial reopening of the state Monday, but the reopening only applies to the Upper Peninsula (Region 8) and the “Traverse City" region of the northwestern Lower Peninsula (Region 6).
In the Cadillac News coverage area, that means businesses in Wexford and Missaukee Counties (Region 6) can re-open but businesses in Lake and Osceola (Region 2) cannot.
Northern Michigan has had lower infection rates and fewer COVID-19 deaths than counties farther to the south.
With the announcement on Monday, Gov. Whitmer urged caution. While acknowledging the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend, she urged Michiganders to stay “smart."
WELCOME BACK TO CADILLAC
Laura Dillon is the owner of Michigan Coffee Company in Cadillac West. Unlike many restaurants/coffee shops that provided take out or delivery, Dillon just recently started taking orders.
The coffee shop that also serves breakfast, lunch, and baked goods, has been closed for six weeks. Dillon said she only started doing take out and utilizing her drive-thru capabilities on May 13 after weighing the safety of her staff and customers.
"We could have stayed open but I wanted to look out for our employees and customers," she said. "With the safety measures we have in place I thought we could keep our people safe."
With the opportunity to open her business to customers, Dillon said she was ready to do so Friday. While she prides herself and her business for being clean already, she said they will take the extra steps to ensure customers can be safe.
Although she can accommodate 42-45 people in her business, Dillon said the way the shop is set up there is only seating for 20. With that in mind, the 50% restrictions will not have any impact on her. She will be opening at full capacity due to that only being half of what she could hold.
"A lot of people take their stuff to go. They want to eat outside and go out to the lake so it won't be that big a deal," Dillon said of the 50% capacity limit for reopening.
Another local restaurant with a small dining area is Simply Delightful, in downtown Cadillac.
Owner Steve Barnes said they're in the process of restoring the building's original hardwood floor and probably won't be ready for dine-in customers by Friday.
Barnes said he took the opportunity to start the restoration project during a time the business had to be closed to dine-in customers, anyway.
"If it wasn't for the shutdown, we probably wouldn't have done this project," Barnes said. "It's one of those things that was always in the back of my mind but I never had time to do it."
Once they're ready to open the dining area, Barnes said he doesn't think it will be too difficult to limit capacity to 50%, since most of their business previous to the shutdown was takeout orders.
"We have a lot of space but we've never had to fill it with tables," Barnes said.
In order to comply with social distancing guidelines, Barnes said it may be necessary to tweak the arrangement of tables to ensure they are six feet apart from each other. He said they'll also be modifying how they serve food to dine-customers; instead of serving food on washable plates, they will be packaging it like a take-out order to minimize potential contact with infected surfaces.
"This takes one step out of the process," Barnes. "We'll be spending a little more on supplies but we'll also be saving on labor costs from not having to wash as many dishes. It's an even trade for us."
Barnes said he doesn't think there will be a spike in customers immediately following the relaxation of restrictions but within the next three to four weeks, foot traffic downtown will begin to increase as weather continues to warm up.
"It's actually bigger for us that other businesses will be able to open up," Barnes said. "That's probably true of most restaurants in the area."
Kaycie Ramsey, owner of Your Sister's Closet — a women's clothing store in Cadillac — said she is very excited to open up and see her customers face-to-face once again.
"I've had customers calling, (asking) 'when will I open?' So I know we will be busy," Ramsey said. "It has been difficult staying in and not seeing my customers. It will be hard not to hug my regulars ... I know we have a new normal happening right now but I think it will take us time to get used to it."
Ramsey said she intends to have a "huge winter blow out" to sell seasonal merchandise that was still popular at the time of the shutdown.
"We have been closed for so long," Ramsey said. "Today we had 75 degrees and it's just crazy to see how much time has gone by."
During the time the business has been closed, Ramsey said she freshened up the inside of the store by some new paint. She also placed markings on the floor indicating six feet of distance, for customers' reference when they're standing in line.
All employees will have masks and Ramsey said only 10 people will be able to be in the store at a time.
"Region 6 and 8 are setting the examples," Ramsey said. "We have to do this right."
Ramsey said she was able to do some curbside orders during the shutdown, in addition to some drop-off business from regular customers but she's more than ready to reopen.
"It's as stable as it's going to be with this pandemic going on," Ramsey said. "I hope it only gets better, but we shall see."
For Chico's Taco House owner Kevin Dewey, the reopening of the businesses to the public is bittersweet.
For anyone who has eaten or picked up food from one of Cadillac West's staple businesses, one thing you instantly know is there is not a lot of space. With the reopening guidelines limiting restaurants to 50% capacity, Dewey said he has had to think outside of the box to expand his seating.
Once opened on Friday, Dewey said he will only be able to seat four tables inside Chico's but he has expanded seating by adding an outdoor patio section and is in the process of installing a take out window in preparation for reopening.
He said his workers will be wearing masks, gloves and will be sanitizing tables. He also said no menus will be handed out to customers and large menus will be hung on the wall for people to use. He also said every order will be in take-out packaging including those that are dine-in. He said it will help to keep things safer and limit interaction as well as help keep the food preparation process the same.
Unlike Dillon who just recently started doing take out, Dewey said he has been up and running with that since Day 1. He said business has been great and believes it may have increased over normal because of other restaurants in the area not being open.
"We have always had a great presence in take-out but it has increased because of the closure," Dewey said. "The downside of reopening is it is only 50% capacity so it is only four tables. We are hoping our take out continues to do well."
Like many businesses, Dewey said the pandemic has forced him to change how he does business. While it was not ideal, Dewey said it has helped in some ways. This includes implementing a new online ordering system that he said has taken off tremendously. He also said he has updated his take out packaging that is sturdier and looks better than the old styrofoam Chico's traditionally used.
He also started selling other items such as soft drinks and the cheese the restaurant uses.
"We started selling additional things we would not have thought of to bring in additional revenue. We have an ice machine coming for bags of ice," he said. "Those types of things I never thought of before but when looking for revenues you have to think outside the box."
Although reopening is limiting him due to the 50% capacity, Dewey said he welcomes reopening because it will help to get his employees back to work. He also said he plans to be closed on Saturday to help other businesses in the area. He said he also plans on going to support these businesses who are reopening.
"We will be closed Saturday and will support other businesses that were closed," he said.
At Horizon Books, Manager Tereesa Arn and an employee were preparing the store on Thursday for re-opening Friday.
That meant installing shields, cleaning, removing tables and placing tape on the floor, all to accomplish social distancing guidelines.
Arn said she expected to get a packet from the state with further guidelines on Friday.
Horizon will have reduced hours, opening seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Not all of the store's employees are returning immediately, mostly due to childcare complications, Arn said.
One big question on Thursday—whether the store would have the new Hunger Games book in time for Friday's re-opening.
EASING BACK IN
A new poll from Great Lakes Wine and Spirit finds Michiganders plan to ease back into social activities like going out to eat and attending concerts or sporting events as restrictions are lifted or loosened in Michigan.
Although the poll was recently released it was conducted April 20-24 by Warrior Market Insight and commissioned by the wine and spirits distributor after it was contacted by several restaurants seeking to gauge consumer sentiment on returning to some normal activities.
The poll drew from a panel of consumers and a social media campaign and more than 1,000 Michigan residents responded to the survey from 64 of the state's 83 counties.
“This poll shows strong support for the state’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve in Michigan. It’s clear those efforts are paying off as regions of the state are beginning to open,‘ Lew Cooper III, co-CEO of Great Lakes Wine and Spirits said. “The poll also paints a sobering picture of how reluctant Michiganders are to return to some normal activities before a COVID-19 vaccine or antibody tests are available.‘
When asked about Gov. Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe‘ Executive Order, issued on April 9, nearly 49% of respondents were neutral on the restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19, while 17% felt it didn’t go far enough. Meanwhile, 12% of those surveyed felt the order went too far. More than 70% of respondents approved of plans to reopen the economy in phases.
The poll also gauged Michiganders’ comfort with returning to normal activities, like going out to eat at a restaurant, catching a movie, or attending a sporting event. When asked how likely they would be to resume these activities within the first week the stay at home order is lifted, respondents said:
77% would be unlikely to see a sporting event, while 11% would attend one
76% would be unlikely to go to a bar or nightclub, while 14% would likely go
74% would be unlikely to go see a movie, while 15% would be likely to go to see one, and
62% would be unlikely to visit a restaurant, while 32% would be likely to visit one.
Respondents grew slightly more comfortable resuming those activities within the first month the stay at home order is lifted. The largest change in activity after the first week was the respondent’s willingness to go back out to restaurants. Respondents said:
70% would be unlikely to see a sporting event, while 17% would attend one
67% would be unlikely to go to a bar or nightclub, while 21% would likely go
63% would be unlikely to go see a movie, while 25% would likely see one, and
38% would be unlikely to visit a restaurant, while 51% would likely visit one
Those surveyed approve of bars and restaurants providing hand sanitizer (80%), installing physical barriers (74%), requiring social distancing between groups (70%), requiring servers to wear masks (67%), and taking customers’ temperatures at the door (46%).
However, it likely won’t be until a vaccine or coronavirus antibody tests are available before respondents said they would feel more comfortable returning to large gatherings, like sporting events (65%) or concerts (67%).
“This poll shows Michigan’s restaurant and entertainment industry will be slow to rebound from the economic impact of this pandemic, but it will rebound,‘ Cooper said. “It will be important for bars and restaurants to closely follow guidance from public health officials to ensure a safe environment for customers as we adjust to the ‘new normal’ created by this pandemic.‘