MICHIGAN — Scott Ellis spent part of his Tuesday morning listening to restaurant and bar owners talk about their fears of potentially having to close permanently due to the pandemic. Michigan is in the middle of another weeks-long pause and he said some are panicking that they may not be able to reopen.
“We’re beyond the tipping point. We have tipped and there are some that will never come back,” Ellis said during a Zoom interview Tuesday afternoon after the meeting. “Fifty percent of our membership, or I guess you can look at it, 50 percent of the industry will be shut down. Those are your local mom-and-pop bars and restaurants in your communities.”
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Ellis is the executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, which is comprised of 2,000 bars and restaurants in the state and 10,000 on-premise licensees. He said their latest survey revealed that half of their businesses could close and 25 percent of their members can’t do outdoor dining due to the cold. These businesses aren’t franchise-owned or corporate-related, and the pause is leaving them with little to no income.
“They're worried about losing their houses,” Ellis said. “Then the other number one complaint we get is their employees. They are concerned about their employees who are not funded. So, we need unemployment to be funded and we need money direct to this industry.”
So, Ellis and the MLBA are reaching out to legislators to come up with a solution now before lawmakers go on break again for the holidays. He said this isn't the restaurants industry’s first ‘call-to-action.’ Several businesses along with the Michigan Restaurants and Lodging Association filed a lawsuit against the state in mid-November. Then, days later, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer introduced a $100,000,000 proposal to help small businesses in the state.
However, Ellis believes that may not be enough. They need help from both sides of the political aisle.
“This is not partisan at all. This is survival,” Ellis said. “I get that the governor and the legislature have tough decisions to make because the state’s going to be in a deficit money-wise. And so I understand that there’s just not money growing on a tree but at the same time we have to look at the devastation to this one specific industry.”
Ellis added that Michigan is a tourism-based state and he considers the restaurant industry to be the safest. He said all the restaurants and bars in the MLBA have been following state guidelines whenever they’re open, wearing masks and limiting capacity. However, they need the state’s help to remain afloat and he’s hoping the public will get involved too, Ellis said.
“Really the number one thing is support your local business right now. [Buy] gift cards if they’re open. If they can do carry-out drinks, which you know we got legislation passed, and carry-out food that will help the ones that are open," Ellis said."The ones that are closed, we need you as a citizen to reach out to your legislature and say ‘look, fund this, help this industry, they need it very bad.'"
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