KENT COUNTY, Mich. — Industries impacted by a new Michigan Department of Health and Human Services order that loosens capacity limits enacted due to COVID-19 say the move is a step in the right direction, but the state needs to fully engage in reopening.
Tuesday MDHHS and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced relaxed restrictions on a host of businesses currently impacted by them. Most notably, bars and restaurants will be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity for indoor dining.
“At least we can add another couple tables,” said Raj Grewal, whose family owns Curry Kitchen and Naan Pizza in Muskegon and Steak and Spice in Grand Rapids.
Grewal estimates he’ll be able to add another four tables to his restaurants, but he says it doesn’t solve the problems created by coronavirus.
“It helps, but still your expenses are still up, you’re running the electric, you’re running the water, you’re running the heat, you know, but you have sales are less,” said Grewal. “Small businesses, local business have been there; it’s not a customer; it’s like a family relation that you have with a customer.”
Jenna Arcidiacono, owner of Amore Trattoria Italiana in Comstock Park, agrees. She says 50 percent capacity adds nine people to her restaurant.
“It’s hard to sit back and wait when you know the options for us are pretty slim,” said Arcidiacono. “It’s been such a struggle for us that we’re trying to keep ourselves positive, but it’s really hard to know that we still have to be patient and wait, who knows, maybe four or five more months before we can go back to 100 percent.
Arcidiacono says because bars and restaurants must still socially distance their seating and can’t add space into an already-existing building, most places will be in a similar position to hers.
“We need, as restaurants, bars, venues like movie theaters… we all need your help now more than ever because we’re getting towards that space where we don’t know you know survive it,” said Arcidiacono.
Local economic leaders want the state to fully re-engage like nearby states. Earlier this week 14 area chamber of commerce organizations, including ones in Grand Rapids and Muskegon, sent a letter to Whitmer that asked her to be clear and transparent on decisions made and utilize best practices that are informed by data, feeling as if that wasn’t being done.
“That doesn’t mean we’re taking the threat of the virus any less seriously,” said Andy Johnston, the vice president of government affairs at Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. “We are. We just need to be relying on personal responsibility, continuing to wear a mask, continuing to stay home when you’re sick.”
“Every day matters, every hour matters, every seat in these facilities matter,” said Cindy Larsen, president of Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. “These folks are way behind and they’re struggling. We’re very happy to see a move forward, that’s for sure, but we’re concerned, and we’ve got to get this moving, safely of course.”