How the coronavirus outbreak is affecting Mount Pleasant businesses
Despite knowing the closure of his business was imminent, Jim Holton said he could have never fully prepared to shut down Mountain Town Station.
His employees were sent lay-off notices, many of whom he said he knows live paycheck to paycheck. Holton stopped ordering food and gave away what was left to his employees. He halted waste pickup and shut down as much electrical equipment as he could.
Holton is trying to prevent as much financial damage as possible.
“Financially, there’s no way to prepare for something like this,” Holton said. “In the restaurant business, our margins are thin. We can’t stockpile cash.”
With a sudden halt to student life and restaurant operations, this could present many challenges to business owners like Holton.
When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed all bars and restaurants at 3 p.m. on March 16 to stop large gatherings and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, it caused many local businesses scrambling to make adjustments to stay afloat. Shortly after, Whitmer issued a temporary stay-at-home order that also closed all non-essential businesses.
With many businesses only open for takeout until at least April 13, and with most Central Michigan University students gone from Mount Pleasant, it could be a difficult few months for local businesses.
Through his businesses – Mountain Town Station, Summit Smokehouse, Mountain Town Brewery, Camille's Prime and Alma Brewing Company – Holton employs 147 people. While he was able to keep Summit open for takeout, he was forced to close his other businesses.
Holton is currently working on federal loans to keep his businesses running and to have a place where his employees can return to work once the restaurants are reopened.
One of the oldest bars in Mount Pleasant, the Green Spot Pub, also had to shut down. The bar doesn't offer delivery service and chose not to make the transition, owner Mike Faulkner said. Whitmer’s order could not have happened at a worse time for Green Spot. Establishments were ordered to close on the day before St. Patrick’s Day – the pub’s biggest day of the year. While the bar was able to sell all the food prepared for that day, the bar itself was not able to open.
While Faulkner said the closure might not have as much of an effect on his business as others, it will still impact him heavily.
“You still have utilities, insurance and taxes,” Faulkner said. “Those things go on whether you’re open or you’re closed. When you have all of those overheads that you have no way to get rid of and you’re not open, that’s a significant amount of money.”
The Bird Bar & Grill, another long-running Mount Pleasant landmark, also couldn't switch to a takeout service. The sales margin on food for the Bird was too slim to justify doing it, manager Ben Breidenstein said.
Missing out on St. Patrick’s Day sales was also a big financial hit for the Bird.
Other restaurants like Vin Trofeo’s, a newcomer to Downtown Mount Pleasant, were able to continue operating through takeout and delivery. The pizzeria and bar had limited delivery hours before but expanded that service to offset some of the lost bar revenue. The pizzeria has been able to sustain itself with a slight decrease in revenue, Baird said. They’ve had to shorten business hours and tips are being split through the entire business staff.
Restaurants and bars are not the only businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Before the mandatory closure of non-essential businesses, B’s Music Shop responded to the outbreak by “soft closing” the showroom and having customers use hand sanitizer when they come into the store, owner Brian Hansen said. Music lessons moved online through Zoom, a video conference service.
Hansen said his walk-in traffic is typically around 100-200 people each day. That decreased to about 15 per day. About one-third of both his customer base and his staff is CMU students. With students having returned home, he said he is concerned about the future of some Mount Pleasant businesses.
“Everyone’s local business relies on that grind of college students,” Hansen said. “We are Mount Pleasant because of Central Michigan University and – in a similar vein – Soaring Eagle Casino.
“Those two entities being closed are very worrisome.”
Along with bars and restaurants, spas were also closed by Whitmer until April 13. Salon Blu in Downtown Mount Pleasant had half of its business shut down by that order. Owner Terri Ramon said she had to indefinitely lay off half her staff and closed the salon on March 24.
“I feel like we were having a really good year so far,” Ramon said. “It stinks. Now I feel like we’re definitely going to be starting from scratch."
Despite the hardships, many of the business owners are optimistic they can make it through the virus outbreak.
Both the Bird and Mountain Town Station will be taking this time to do cleaning projects, which will give employees at the Bird something to do, Breidenstein said. He’s sure the Bird will open back up once this outbreak passes.
“We’ve been here way too long that it wouldn’t matter what it would take. We would open our doors back up no matter what,” Breidenstein said. “There’s too much history to let that go.”