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U.P. businesses accused of defying order to limit work amid COVID-19 crisis

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Three businesses in Menominee County in the Upper Peninsula have agreed to limit operations amid the coronavirus pandemic following orders from state and local officials, the state attorney general said Thursday.

A woman using a vaping device exhales a puff of smoke.

Cease-and-desist letters were sent to Auto Credit Center, Grow Masters Indoor & Outdoor Gardening Supplies and Holy Smokes Tobacco Shop for failing to comply with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe executive order, which limits business operations during the pandemic and extends through this month.  

None were considered critical infrastructure under the order to allow on-site operations, "but reports indicated they were still open," according to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office.

After Michigan State Police troopers delivered the letters, all three businesses said they would comply with the executive order, according to the release.

“There is a big difference between the need for food and for cigarettes, smoking supplies or financing a used car,” said Jeffrey Rogg, Menominee County prosecutor.

“The idea behind our local enforcement effort is to limit our citizens’ exposure to others by keeping them home, as much as possible, during this crucial time. I see the continued operation of these businesses as an unnecessary risk to public health, which has the potential to encourage others to try to get around the governor’s closure orders.”

Auto Credit Center, Inc. in Menominee, Michigan.

Grow Masters Indoor & Outdoor Gardening Supplies, which sells groceries, will provide curbside service for agricultural purposes only. Representatives for the company and Auto Credit Center did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

“I appreciate the cooperation of Prosecutor Rogg in enforcing the governor’s executive order, and I would stress again to business owners that they must follow the Stay Home, Stay Safe order,” Nessel said. “These are unprecedented times and we all must work together to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Again, I appreciate the work of law enforcement agencies throughout our state, and I ask that you take appropriate action to address any violations reported to your offices.” 

Reached Thursday, Andrea Woods, manager at Holy Smokes, said the business, which is described on its Facebook page as the "area's finest glass and vape shop," closed immediately upon receiving the cease-and-desist notice.

Staffers are looking into how to manage deliveries so customers can pick up products without entering, Woods said.

"We’re worried for our employees because they have bills to pay, too, but we’re also worried for our customers and what they’re going to do," she told The Detroit News on Thursday night. "We hope this is all resolved soon."

People in violation of Whitmer’s stay-at-home order and other executive actions could face fines of up to $1,000 and businesses could see licensing penalties, according to a new emergency order from the director of the state health department.

This alert went out to smartphones alerting Michigan residents about the governor's order taking effect early March 24 through April 13.

The order remains in effect as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. 

As of Thursday afternoon, Michigan reported 10,791 cases and 417 deaths. 

Whitmer said Thursday the state could hit its “apex” in late April or early May.