In the week since the start of Washtenaw County’s stay-in-place order for undergraduate students at the University of Michigan, sales have dipped for some businesses in Ann Arbor. Jerusalem Garden, a popular restaurant run by City Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, has experienced a decrease in customer traffic since the order took effect.
“We have seen a softening in business a bit,” Ramlawi said. “You could tell that it has had an effect. It softened what were already soft numbers to begin with.”
Ramlawi noted the necessity of the order amid rising cases on campus, saying that “when the county issues an edict like that, it’s pretty serious.”
Since restaurants were permitted to open up again in June, Jerusalem Garden has only allowed patio seating at its East Liberty Street location while continuing its take-out business. The restaurant will take customers on the patio as long as they follow COVID guidelines.
“It’s tough to be hospitable and yet enforce social distancing standards,” Ramlawi said. “It remains too much of an unstable situation to open up the inside for now.”
Salads UP, another restaurant on East Liberty Street, quickly adjusted to the constraints of the pandemic to accommodate customers while staying safe. Jared Hoffman, owner of the Ann Arbor establishment, believes his business is well prepared for the new circumstances.
“Overall, it doesn’t really change anything for us,” Hoffman said. “Right when the pandemic started, we went to all digital, everything online, everything pickup and delivery, using your phone for ordering purposes right away. So it didn’t really register that much for us just because we had changed the way we were running the business pretty early on.”
Hoffman emphasized the importance of safety in the restaurant environment, for staff as well as customers. He believes that take-out and delivery will still keep business active while also ensuring that everyone involved remains healthy. Ramlawi agreed.
“We haven’t been trying to get used to anything ever since COVID began in March,” Ramlawi said. “Every week is different, every month has been different, every day seems to be different. So you take it day by day.”
Ruth Kraut, deputy health officer for Washtenaw County, said local businesses have been accommodating when it comes to complying with the guidelines.
“We have a generally cooperative relationship with our restaurants and we have a programming manager who’s been managing all of the restaurants’ questions,” Kraut said. “We really want them to support cooperation with the order.”
Kraut said though undergraduates aren’t permitted to eat in restaurants or go shopping for inessential items, they are allowed to get take-out and go grocery shopping. She noted the in-person interactions concern the county most in terms of transmission risk.
If undergraduates do attempt to breach the guidelines of the order, there is already a system in place for Washtenaw County to investigate the situation. But, Kraut added, the county also recognizes the difficulty this places on restaurants.
“We get complaints from people all the time sent to the email that’s on our website, or phone calls, and we follow up on those complaints,” Kraut said. “But we’re not really trying to be punitive, that’s not really the goal. The goal is to keep everybody healthy and to be able to stay in school.”
Last week, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners adopted a schedule of civil monetary penalties for violations of local public health guidelines. People who do not comply with the rules can be issued citations ranging from $500 to $1,000, with an option to appeal the charge. However, officials said they would emphasize education and prevention before resorting to fines.
Like other students, Business freshman Marcel Wong is skeptical of the order’s effectiveness.
“I think the stay-at-home order, while warranted, is a bit too little, too late,” Wong said. “… The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously been an issue for many months, but conveniently taking action on it before the first football game and Halloween signifies perhaps a different intention from the University’s perspective.”
Wong lives in Mary Markley Residence Hall, where students were ordered to practice enhanced social distancing prior to the county’s order due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. He said these restrictions have altered students’ spending habits.
“I have definitely purchased less from outside restaurants and have eaten more dining hall food since I have already paid for my meal plan for the semester,” Wong said. “I typically order out when I am with other people and friends, and in accordance with the order, I have not been.”
After the financial worries brought on by the start of the pandemic, businesses now know to expect these fluctuations in customer levels due to the constant changes, Ramlawi said.
“We’re just holding on for a better year,” Ramlawi said. “We are all just trying to save what we’ve built.”
Daily Contributor Sarah Stolar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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