EMPTY

Despite pleas from the store to limit purchases of paper products to one item per customer, the paper towel and bathroom tissue shelves at Walmart in Tawas City were barren.

TAWAS CITY – Empty parking lots, minimal traffic, shuttered businesses, limited and restricted services, depleted stock on store shelves, reduced hours of service, and diminished income represent the harsh reality of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on Iosco County businesses.

Three of the 22 Executive Orders signed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer since she declared a state of emergency due to the novel coronavirus on March 10 prohibited large gatherings, closed schools, libraries, and museums, shut down dine-in restaurants, taverns, theaters, gymnasiums, and casinos, as well as ordered residents of the State to stay at home and mandated social distancing when leaving the home for necessary reasons. Whitmer took these actions under section 1 of article 5 of the Michigan Constitution of 1963, the Emergency Management Act, and the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945.

The orders explained, “The Emergency Management Act vests the governor with broad powers and duties to ‘cop[e] with dangers to this state or the people of this state presented by a disaster or emergency,’ which the governor may implement through ‘executive orders, proclamations, and directives having the force and effect of law.’ MCL30.403(1)-(2). Similarly, the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945, provides that, after declaring a state of emergency, ‘the governor may promulgate reasonable orders, rules, and regulations as he or she considers necessary to protect life and property or to bring the emergency situation within the affected area under control.’ MCL10.31(1).”

Whitmer’s statement went on to say that the orders were issued to, “mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to provide essential protections to vulnerable Michiganders and this state’s health care system and other infrastructure.”

While Executive Order No. 2020-9, later rescinded and superseded by Executive Order No. 2020-20 which extended the effective date of the order to April 13, closed restaurants that offered dine-in service, they were “encouraged to offer food and beverage using delivery service, window service, walk-up service, drive-through service, or drive-up service, and to use precautions in doing so to mitigate the potential transmission of Covid-19, including social distancing.” It allows up to five people at a time to enter the restaurant to pick up their food and beverage orders, but requires that they remain at least six feet apart while on the premises.

“We can’t afford this,” said Gus Handjis, owner of Mama’s Country Kitchen in Oscoda. During a period of time in the morning when several patrons would normally be enjoying their breakfast while seated in his restaurant, Handjis sat alone, and expressed concern about the financial future of his business. 

“We have to pay salaries, we have to pay utilities,” he said. “This could set us five years back.”

Several of the dine-in restaurants that chose to stay open for carry-out and delivery have also cut their hours of service. 

An exception to Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order allows individuals to leave their home “to purchase groceries, take-out food, gasoline, needed medical supplies, and any other products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and basic operation of their residence.” As such, gasoline stations and service garages have been designated as “essential” businesses.

Darrell Gravow, owner of Darrell’s Maxi Muffler in Tawas City, when asked about the effect that the current situation has had on his business.

“It’s definitely down.” Gravow noted that traffic on US-23 in front of his establishment has decreased significantly, and that his parking lot, which is normally full of vehicles awaiting repairs and service, is far emptier than normal.

Gravow has also taken steps to comply with the state’s social distancing mandate. His counter, where service orders are normally taken face-to-face, has been cordoned off by the placement of tires, tonneau covers, U-Haul dollies, and other products and equipment offered through the business in order to restrict access to the counter area and maintain the required six feet of separation. 

“It’s changed the way we do business,” Gravow said, adding that he has recently had customers in the shop who had returned from trips to New York and Oklahoma, as well as nurses and other medical professionals who may have been exposed to COVID-19. “We’ve had to rethink everything,” he said.

Another essential business, Tawas Do-It Best Hardware, reported somewhat better results. Proprietor Paul Stevelink said that his business was “maintaining, let’s put it that way,” during the crisis. Stevelink noted that the month of March is typically “a little slow,” and that he would know more when warmer weather arrives.

Banks and Credit Unions, also designated as essential, have responded to the social distancing directive by closing their lobbies to face-to-face transactions. 

Chemical Bank, PNC Bank, Huron Community Bank, Northland Area Federal Credit Union, Alpena-Alcona Area Credit Union, and Wolverine State Credit Union have all transitioned to drive-up service only, while encouraging their clients to use automatic teller machines, mobile telephone applications, and online banking.

Walmart in Tawas City has struggled to keep basic commodities in stock, as fears of shortages drove customers to buy out entire inventories of toilet paper, paper towels, flour, and other items during this crisis. The store has placed signs throughout their grocery section pleading with customers to limit their purchases to one item only of a particular product.

Cannabis retailers were also declared to be essential businesses under the governor’s order. In a bulletin issued March 24, the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) announced that both medical marijuana provisioning centers and adult-use cannabis retailers would be permitted to operate under special conditions. David Harns, a spokesman for the MRA, said that the businesses would only be permitted to provide marijuana through curbside pickup or home delivery. Locally, signs advertising curbside pick are displayed in front of The Botanical Co. on US-23 in Baldwin Township.

Even pet care has been affected by Covid-19. Sunrise Side Veterinary Hospital in Baldwin Twp. has posted a sign on the clinic’s entrance informing pet owners that they, too, are practicing social distancing. Clients are instructed to contact the office by telephone upon arrival so that a staff member may come out into the parking lot to bring their pet into the office for examination or treatment while the pet owner remains in their vehicle. Payment for veterinary service is then handled by credit card over the phone.