Local salon, gym, restaurant owners worry about another month of shutdown

Jessica Kirksey, owner of The Beauty Parlor in Trenton, gets emotional when she thinks about the support she has seen from her clients since she had to close her shop March 19 following government orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some have phoned, some have bought gift cards and others have supported the business by purchasing curbside color and facial kits. Still, business is only about 10% of what it typically would be.

Tracy Pultorak paints a message for clients on the window of The Beauty Parlor in downtown Trenton. The salon's owner, Jessica Kirksey, says the impact of the shutdown has been "absolutely devastating."

“It’s grocery money,” Kirksey said.  “The impact has been absolutely devastating. I feel blessed my husband has a job, but some of my girls are single moms. They are trying to support themselves and have nothing coming in.”

So it was another blow when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this week extended an executive order requiring bars, casinos, gyms, libraries, restaurants, salons and theaters remain closed through May 28 instead of May 15 to stop the spread of COVID-19. While many business owners stressed the importance of keeping their staff and communities safe, some are frustrated over the lack of transparency into economic recovery plans and are worried that if they are not able to open soon, they could be closed for good.

“Some anticipated May 15 as a possibility and were hopeful, because they needed something to be hopeful for,” said Justin Winslow, CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association. He cited a survey released last week showing restaurants could close for good at a rate of 20 per day in the month of May.

“That’s where we find ourselves. Small, independent operators who are not flush with cash even when times are great, they cannot weather a storm for multiple months. And those who are not fortunate to get stimulus, they are in dire straits right now.”

Bryan Beaune, owner of Building Your Temple Fitness, unequivocally believes it is time for the state to allow businesses to reopen. He permanently has closed a location in Waterford Township he opened last June. Now, he worries that if he's not allowed to open soon, his original location in Oxford will not survive, either.

About half of his members have canceled and he has lost about $20,000 in revenue in April alone, Beaune said. On top of that, his wife, who is a barber, is out of work. 

"It's rough," he said. "I hope the state legislature takes [Whitmer] to court and wins, because we've got to open the state back up or this location will end up failing."

The state legislature on Thursday voted to authorize a lawsuit over Whitmer's powers to combat COVID-19. As a result, business owners are receiving mixed signals. The governor is saying they must remain closed, while GOP legislators contend Whitmer's state of emergency ended Thursday.

Business owners called for clarity.

"It's getting a little mucked," said Joe Vicari, owner of Warren-based Joe Vicari Restaurant Group, which owns 22 restaurants, including Andiamo, Joe Muer Seafood and 2941 Mediterranean Seafood. "The thing I am frustrated about is there's no game plan. OK, tell us we are going to open on May 28 at 50% capacity and keep the distance rule in place. If she told us that, we could gear up for that."

Michigan on Friday reported another 977 COVID-19 cases and 77 coronavirus-related deaths. The virus has infected 42,356 Michiganians and killed 3,866.

Statistics like that is why safety has to come first, said Terra Castro, owner of Detroit Body Garage, a gym on the city's east side that's been in business for four years. She chose to close down her studio even before Whitmer's stay-at-home order went into effect, and has since pivoted to offering virtual workout classes.

Terra Castro, owner of Detroit Body Garage.

"As a wellness leader and a business owner, I want to make sure my community is well and healthy," she said. "It's not about me. It's about other people. So I am 100% understanding and supportive of what the governor is doing."

Having to close the gym is "not ideal," and the business has taken a financial hit, Castro said, but it also created an online community of Detroiters and people from out-of-state.

"We do pivot," she said. "And Detroit does rally together."

The longer these businesses stay closed, the larger the financial impact there also will be on the city of Detroit — namely income taxes and casino revenue, which contributes $600,000 to the city per day. The city has estimated a budget impact of $100 million for the fiscal year ending in June and another $200 million in the year to follow. The extension of the closures until May 28 does not change those projections.

Traffic Jam & Snug, a Midtown bakery, microbrewery and dairy, has furloughed about 50 employees, said Scott Lowell, co-owner. It tried takeout, but because business was so slow, it now only is serving hospital and other frontline workers.

"Restaurant owners, bar owners are doing everything they can to ensure sanitation and safety of their establishment so people don't get sick — that would not be a good business for anybody," said Lowell, chairman of the Detroit Restaurant and Lodging Association. "We're hopeful that this latest extension will be it."

Having a definitive date for reopening would provide some much-needed certainty, said Dave Finlay, owner of CrossFit in the D downtown.

"You're going to expose yourself to so many different people in a grocery store or a Costco or a Home Depot than you would in a gym like ours," he said. "We're a smaller community of people with way less equipment to manage. We have a lot of space relative to the number of people in the business."

CrossFit in the D offer virtual classes, but is not getting new members or drop-ins. Some members have canceled. Finlay puts his losses at $35,000. He has applied for every loan and grant for which he is eligible, but has yet to receive any assistance. He still has rent to pay.

"Through no fault of our own, gym owners are being completely wiped out right now," he said. "Things we've worked our entire lives to build are getting completely beaten up and taken away from us."

Michael Axtell, owner of Detroit gym Proving Grounds Strength and Konditioning, is sustaining his business by offering online workout classes and renting out equipment to members. Still, he says he's lost about half of his membership.

He also worries that when gyms do reopen, members will not flock back: "Just because everything is open doesn't mean people will show up just because they're allowed."

Omar Anani, owner and chef of Moroccan restaurant Saffron De Twah on Detroit's east side, says he might hold off reopening, even if the government gives the OK. His restaurant closed prior to the original government order.

"We are delivering to hospitals, doctors, first responders, and from what I am hearing, it's not a pretty picture," said Anani, who has donated more than 2,000 meals. "I want them to tell us it's OK to open."

Halimah Al-Qadi, manager at Harmony Garden Cafe, a Midtown restaurant specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine, wishes the partisan fighting in Lansing would stop. 

The restaurant offers takeout and curbside delivery, but business fell as much as 75% once the stay-at-home orders took effect, said Al-Qadi, whose husband bought the restaurant 2½ years ago. "But I'm [in favor] of doing what we need to do to make sure that this is not something that comes back with a fury," she said. "I'm much more concerned with people's safety, and I feel like we'll weather the storm."

The family-run business has stopped paying family members who work there, so they can keep paying non-family employees. And despite its difficulties, Harmony Garden is donating food orders of up to $100 when someone asks it to match a donation.

"It's just really important that we support each other," said Al-Qadi. "It's not the time for bickering or infighting, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or something in between. We need to work together as a community to get through this, in a safe way."