Small Michigan business owners struggling, make plea to 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 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.”
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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 anticip…