'Painful and frustrating': Local businesses react to another round of COVID-19 restrictions

Wednesday, November 18, 2020 - 9:22pm

Local businesses react to the new 3-week pandemic order issued by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Local businesses react to the new 3-week pandemic order issued by Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Buy this photo
Jeremy Weine/Daily

Local business owners greeted the state’s new epidemic order with a mixture of emotions: anxiety about the health of their businesses, relief that staff will no longer have to engage in potentially risky activities and exasperation that they’ll have to shut down operations yet again. 

Risa Gotlib, the owner of Tiny Buddha Yoga, said though the order will affect her business’s revenues, it also comes as a relief. Gotlib said she was excited to resume in-person activities in the business’s two studios when restrictions were initially lifted but still felt uncomfortable about the increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It was so energizing and amazing and beautiful to be in person,” Gotlib said. “(But) I'll be honest, being in person was a little bit scary. Because even though we know so much more about corona now than we did in March, even with masks on and all the precautions that we were taking in the studio to be in person … who knows what could happen?”

The order, which took effect Wednesday and will last three weeks, attempts to curb the recent spike in Michigan coronavirus cases. In addition to limits on indoor dining and social gatherings, the order also forces casinos and movie theaters to close, organized sports to stop and in-person classes at colleges and high schools to move to a remote-only format. Gyms will continue to be open for individual, socially-distanced use.

Russ Collins, chief executive officer and executive director of the Michigan Theater Foundation — which owns the Michigan Theater and The State Theatre — said he thinks the order was necessary for the well-being of the community, but is sad to see downtown Ann Arbor struggling. 

“We’re more than willing to comply with the public health requirements of our county and the state,” Collins said. “But it obviously is painful and frustrating.”

Collins said though the Michigan Theater Foundation has been financially supported by donors and members during the pandemic, he is concerned about the city’s restaurants, which may not have access to similar sources of revenue. 

“Ann Arbor has such a lively, vital, vibrant downtown,” Collins said. “And for the better part of a year now, to see it just staggering is deeply painful.”

Collins said news about coronavirus vaccines allows him to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” He also recognizes the shutdowns, while necessary to protect the community, pose difficult challenges. 

“It’s tough to be closed down,” Collins said. “But it’s tough to be open and having people get increasingly ill.”

Some business owners said the recent order is much different for local businesses than the shutdowns in the spring as they no longer have access to aid from the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides funds to businesses to continue to pay workers’ wages and cover expenses like rent. 

Gotlib and her staff started offering virtual classes at the beginning of the pandemic to create another revenue stream and maintain the community of their yoga classes, but she said the PPP provided a valuable source of income. Gotlib said though the PPP money was never enough to cover all of their expenses, it provided crucial funds.

To Gotlib, the prospect of her business facing a new shutdown without stimulus money is daunting.

“It’s scary now, for the longevity of the business,” Gotlib said. “I really wish that another round of support could be passed through the government like the PPP. The Payroll Protection Program that that came through, it wasn’t — and this is true of like everyone that I’ve spoken with — it wasn’t really enough, but it was a Band-Aid. It was helpful. It allowed some of us to breathe a little bit easier for a little while.”

Though lawmakers from both parties want to pass another round of support for businesses and workers, negotiations over a new stimulus package have stalled in Congress over the size and scope of the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is pushing for a smaller bill limited to unemployment insurance, PPP and liability protections for corporations, while Democrats want a larger package that includes more money for unemployment insurance and another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, among other provisions. 

Gotlib has tried to make sure her staff can continue to earn money despite the decreased revenue. Though most of her employees have other jobs in addition to teaching at Tiny Buddha, she has tried to make sure that those whose livelihoods depend on teaching yoga are supported.

“I basically said, ‘Everybody write me an email, tell me what you want and what you need, and I’m going to try to do the best that I can,’” Gotlib said. 

LSA senior Samuel Canfield said he approves of the new order because he sees the targeted activities as nonessential. 

“This isn’t really impactful either, because I don’t think dining is a necessity, and I don’t think going to the movie theaters or going to the gym is a necessity either,” Canfield said.

Collins said the best thing people can do is continue to patronize places they care about.

“All of us can do our part to support those businesses that are most dramatically affected,” Collins said. 

Daily Staff Reporter Carter Howe can be reached at tcbhowe@umich.edu. Daily News Contributor Eli Friedman can be reached at elisf@umich.edu


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