AA businesses struggle amid coronavirus outbreak, school closures

Sunday, March 15, 2020 - 7:04pm

Local businesses and stores consider closing in light of the COVID-19 risk.

Local businesses and stores consider closing in light of the COVID-19 risk. Buy this photo
Allison Engkvist/Daily

With the rapidly evolving coronavirus outbreak in the United States and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order, many local businesses are to remain temporarily closed. 

As of Monday night, there are 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Michigan. A case at the Vic Village-North student apartment building was announced Friday afternoon, shortly after University President Mark Schlissel disclosed that a member of the University of Michigan community tested positive for the virus. 

On Thursday evening, the city of Ann Arbor notified residents that all events with 50 or more attendees would be canceled. Public spaces like the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, Ann Arbor City Hall, city parks and the Ann Arbor District Libraries are all closed.  

Some Ann Arbor businesses have independently decided to temporarily close in order to mitigate the virus’s spread. Those that remained open are already noticing a significant decrease in the amount of foot traffic and number of sales. 

Literati Bookstore, a staple book shop in Ann Arbor, has closed indefinitely due to concerns about the growing coronavirus outbreak. The change is effective immediately. 

Mike and Hilary Gustafson, the owners of Literati, wrote in an email to customers that the decision to close was difficult but reassured customers their store would continue online. 

“What a week,” Mike Gustafson wrote. “Hilary and I are a bit emotional and feel like we have some whiplash, as I'm sure many of you do, too. It is hard because we feel an intense need to come together as a community, and yet cannot do so physically.”

The decision to close also comes after Whitmer declared a state of emergency and the University of Michigan moved all classes online for the rest of the winter semester, canceling all study abroad programs and recalling all students outside of the country. On Friday, Schlissel encouraged all students still on campus to return home if they are able to.

On Saturday, RoosRoast Coffee on East Liberty Street put a sign on their door telling customers they would no longer offer seating — all food and drinks will be served to go. Urban Outfitters, which has a location on State Street, closed all global stores Saturday while Red Yoga on Liberty Street closed through March 28. 

Melanie Chasseur, a University alum and employee at the clothing store Pitaya on State Street, said the business has no current plans to close but has been struggling to keep the store running due to the fact that most of its employees are University students. 

“About four or five of our employees have gone home and they had positions in the summer,” Chasseur said. “We have been having scheduling conflicts. We are currently hiring because we don’t have enough employees for the hours available.”

Chasseur said she has noticed that because Pitaya mainly serves students, especially those in fraternities or sororities, sales have dipped as students are urged to return to their hometowns or stay in their homes as often as possible. 

“(The business) has been rather dead,” Chasseur said. “At Pitaya, I’ve been noticing that a lot of people haven’t been coming in. A majority of our demographics who shop with us are students and students involved in Greek life buying things for date parties and events and going out in general. That has halted.”

In response to recent developments across the state, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the closure of all K-12 schools in an effort to promote social distancing and slow the spread of the virus. Whitmer also banned gatherings of 250 people or more in an executive order Friday. 

At a press conference on Sunday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said public spaces like restaurants or bars could face consequences like losing their liquor licenses or being forced to shut down if they violate this order. 

“In the event there are some bad apples out there that choose not to (follow this order), then we are prepared and ready to defend the law,” Nessel said. “As there are further developments, I trust that the governor will do whatever she needs to do in the event that there needs to be more stringent orders that are undertaken. But for the meantime, we are operating under these current orders and we’re very hopeful that if everybody follows them, that we’ll be able to keep the public safe.”

In addition to bars, other Ann Arbor businesses, such as restaurants and cafes, are now beginning to offer free meals to the nearly 18,000 students in the Ann Arbor Public Schools district.

Piada Italian Street Food on State Street announced in an email Saturday they would offer free pasta and soft drinks during lunch hours starting Monday, March 16 until April 3. Similarly, TeaHaus in Kerrytown said in a Facebook post they would begin handing out free boxed lunches at EatMoreTea, their sister location at 211 E. Ann Street, on Monday. 

“We are amazed by the outpouring of support for our free boxed lunch initiative!” Lisa McDonald, the owner of TeaHaus, wrote. “What went from me buying a few extra loaves of bread and sandwich makings for us to put together and give to any kid who was hungry, has turned into an incredible showing of the kindness in our community.”

Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath. To stop the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control recommend people wash their hands often, avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth and stay clear of large group gatherings as much as possible. 

Daily News Editor Liat Weinstein can be reached at weinsl@umich.edu