GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — On what is usually the biggest bar night of the year, downtown Grand Rapids is empty. Owners are losing out on revenue with emergency orders shutting their doors.
"It's usually just a big celebration, and people want to get festive. This year, it’s just all empty," said Tami VandenBerg, owner of the Meanwhile Bar and Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids.
Both have shut their doors and re-opened multiple times since the start of the pandemic. They have juggled the challenges of outdoor seating, providing to-go cocktails and other obstacles the pandemic has presented.
The week of Thanksgiving typically begins the surge of business bars see through the entire holiday season, with the evening before Thanksgiving often dubbed 'the busiest bar night of the year.'
"Not only is it very good financially, but it’s also just a very jovial experience because people are coming back into town. You’re running into people you haven’t seen in years possibly or since last year," said VandenBerg.
As closures continue for bars and restaurants, many staff are not ineligible to receive additional unemployment. Many are making the choice to move on from the hospitality business.
"It’s difficult. It’s very difficult. We keep losing staff who find other jobs because they need to work and they can no longer get any kind of supplement with unemployment."
Even deciding if they should remain open with outdoor seating is a challenge. In some scenarios, business owners will save money with a lack of operational costs if they choose to remain closed versus serving to-go drinks or operating at a limited capacity. VandenBerg says it's a juggling act.
"That’s what we are always doing right now. Trying to make those calculations of what are our fixed costs. What do we absolutely have to pay?"
VandenBerg says though customers currently may not be able to support their favorite spots by dining or drinking, those who want to support their favorite businesses can purchase merchandise in the meantime. Pyramid Scheme is also offering pinball machine rentals while the bar is closed. VandenBerg also encourages customers to reach out to local election officials and urge them to offer additional resources to small businesses.