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Kalamazoo businesses speak on navigating COVID-19 for 2 years

Harvey's On the Mall
Posted at 7:00 PM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 19:45:25-05

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Navigating COVID-19 has been a roller coaster for businesses over the last two years.

According to a January study by the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, 59% of owners surveyed said they accumulated debt since March 2020.

Beyond that, 47% said they fell behind on expenses, and 78% said their restaurant is less profitable now than before the pandemic.

Those statistics are a tough reality for thousands of Michigan businesses.

Two Kalamazoo business owners who spoke with FOX 17 News said it's not what they would have expected when they first heard about the virus two years ago.

Since then, they've both had to push through. Many businesses got help with federal and state funds but also had to get creative.

"When we first heard about it is that, you know, I guess we knew that it was gonna be like a bad season for... for health, but never did we ever expect to get shut down," said Stephen Blinn, the owner of Harvey's on the Mall in Kalamazoo.

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Stephen Blinn and his wife said at first they didn't go into panic, despite owning two restaurant/bars: Harvey's on the Mall and Olde Peninsula Brewpub.

Then, restrictions were put into place. Businesses closed and opened and closed again and reopened.

"Thankfully, we've always had a to-go business format, but we weren't ever totally to-go, so to learn that in the matter of, you know, on the on-the-go rather quickly and to adapt, so that was... that was probably the biggest challenge," said Blinn.

For Jessica Thompson, owner of Bee Joyful Shop in Kalamazoo, the first zero-waste and refill store in Michigan, she was working on opening a storefront during that time.

"Panic sets in because I do have money invested and time and quit my job to start this venture, and all of a sudden, the, you know, everyone's saying, ‘Oh, my goodness, the state's shutting down. Everyone is staying home,’" said Jessica Thompson, the owner of Bee Joyful Shop in Kalamazoo.

At that time, Bee Joyful Shop had a small following from farmers markets and other shows they attended over the years.

Thompson said they had to get creative, focusing on online sales and even starting up a TikTok account.

"People just were so interested and intrigued with the concept and the products that the sales that we get from TikTok actually help save our business during the shutdown," said Thompson.

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For restaurants, things were a little more difficult even with takeout and to-go drinks.

Blinn and his wife had to make the hard decision to permanently close Olde Peninsula Brewpub before they were spread too thin.

"We had all these other variations of COVID that hit and, you know, Peninsula was a very big footprint. It was a 200-seat restaurant, and just what it took to keep that going, and to keep Harvey’s going," said Blinn.

Even with PPP loans and other money given to help, two years have passed and it's still a struggle.

"At the end of the day, we're just breaking even, so, you know, I mean, in that whole timeframe, our cost of goods have gone up, the cost for employees have gone up, so you know, even today, we're still operating in a breakeven business," said Blinn.

Blinn said they're determined to make it through, focusing on Harvey's on the Mall.

Both businesses said they appreciate the support they saw throughout the last two years.

"All of the people who have supported shopping local and just doing everything they can to make sure that we all made it through it really. It means the world to all of us," said Thompson.

Both businesses said they're encouraged for what the next year brings, noting they have seen business pick up similar to what it was before March 2020.

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