Since the implementation of the Stay Home, Stay Safe, local business Ann Arbor Distilling Company has been making hand sanitizers for residents. The free, four-ounce bottles can be picked up curbside at their location on Felch Street.
Michael Fox is the sales and distribution director for Ann Arbor Distilling Company. Fox said the company knew a week and a half before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer officially issued the Stay at Home order that Michigan would soon be under some type of lockdown.
“We kind of saw the writing on the wall in what was going on in Washington and what was going on in New York, what had already gone on in Italy and China,” Fox said. “We said, ‘Okay, it’s going to be massively affecting our economy, our industry and our community.’ So we thought, we’re one of the very few people, those of us in this industry, who can actively provide something that people need.”
Fox said the company decided to use the 95.5 percent alcohol that comes out of the still from the first distillation.
“All we need to do is get aloe, glycerin and you can make it,” Fox said.
The staff went to grocery stores such as Plum Market and Whole Foods to pick up aloe. They ordered the vegetable glycerin and 120 two-ounce spray bottles online.
“We ran out of containers within the first two to three hours of giving it away,” Fox said. “So we now have shifted to four-ounce (containers), which we’re handing out to people, or we’re filling their own containers.”
The company is still fully staffed and running, but customers are not allowed inside.
“We’ve moved more to a curbside model where people call up and we’re happy to put some outside for them to pick up,” Fox said.
“We’ve given away, just to walk-up business, we’ve given away more than 150 gallons, four-counce at a time,” Fox said. “In addition to that, we’ve given away a couple hundred gallons to the Delonis Center Homeless Shelter here in Ann Arbor, to the Ann Arbor Police and Fire Departments, healthcare organizations, the Humane Society of Huron Valley.”
As coronavirus self-isolation continues, the requests for hand sanitizers have only increased. Originally, those who went to pick them up were regular customers of the distillery. Now, Fox says he is giving out hand sanitizers to members of the community who have never frequented Ann Arbor Distilling Company.
“As the days progressed, we started seeing more and more people coming to the distillery, some who didn’t even know we existed,” Fox said. “We started to see people who weren’t regulars.”
Fox also said many of the customers donated to the U.S. Bartenders Guild Foundation Emergency Relief Fund, which will help hospitality workers.
“Once the restaurant closure was put in place, we had people really coming out of the woodwork, regulars calling us wanting to support us because our only source of revenue, our tasting room, was shut down,” Fox said. “Essentially our revenue went from positive revenue, to not even flat, but essentially negative revenue overnight.”
Despite the loss of revenue, the company is still fully staffed and paying their employees their wages. During its normal hours, Ann Arbor Distilling Company makes a variety of craft alcohols, including gin and whiskey.
“All of the grain we use is all grown locally in Dexter on a single family-owned farm,” Fox said. “It’s then processed through the Dexter Mill, so we’re as grain to glass as you could possibly be.”
Even after the stay-at-home order is lifted, Fox and his staff are fully prepared to supply hand sanitizers.
“I think there’s still going to be a demand for it well into the summer and when this next winter hits, even with the common flu going around, people are going to go back to the hoarding mentality,” Fox said. “I feel like this need is going to be around for honestly at least a year.”
Fox said until June 30, they are still allowed by law to produce hand sanitizers.
“We plan on doing this right up until the day they tell us we can’t,” Fox said. “If the demand does slow, this product doesn’t go bad. We can have it for our guests here, we can still give it to those in need.”
Though Ann Arbor Distilling Company is giving away hand sanitizer for free, other companies have not followed suit. In a news release from the State of Michigan Emergency Operations Center, the Attorney General’s Office is officially taking legal action against A.M. Cleaning & Supplies for price gouging.
Attorney General Dana Nessel said in the statement that legal action was necessary to protect consumers and their access to sanitizing products.
“Legal recourse is not the preferred option, but my office will take any necessary steps to determine whether reports of price-gouging are valid,” Nessel said. “Businesses must play by the rules and if a company is breaking the law, we will hold it accountable. Michigan consumers looking to buy products they need or to protect their health during this pandemic will not be subjected to excessively high prices.”
According to the release, the Attorney General’s office has received 11 consumer complaints that allege A.M. Cleaning & Supplies drastically increased its prices for hand sanitizer. Complaints began after the business posted a message on social media advertising hand sanitizer at $60 for a 12-ounce bottle, $40 for an eight-ounce bottle and $20 for a four-ounce bottle. The bottles were reportedly priced at $7.50, $5 and $2.50, respectively.
Public Health junior Noreen Khan said the efforts put forth by the Ann Arbor Distilling Company to help the community during the COVID-19 outbreak were important.
“I think it’s a great example of companies coming together with the public in this difficult time,” Khan said.
Khan said individuals should look to use alternate methods of sanitization, such as washing hands and making do-it-yourself face masks, during the nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitary items.
“Especially with health care workers not having enough access to PPE and hand sanitizer, I think it’s really important,” Khan said. “Everyone is trying to get their hands on this stuff. It’s important to know alternate methods (of sanitization) and to try to quarantine in your house as much as possible so it’s less necessary to buy masks and hand sanitizer when you can wash your hands at home and not need a mask.”
Reporter Alyssa McMurtry can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Ann Arbor Distilling Company makes beer. They can only produce spirits. The article has also been updated to clarify that Fox was speaking about Washington state, not Washington D.C.