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Opinion: Open retail in Michigan before Memorial Day weekend

William J. Hallan

The Michigan Retailers Association has been lobbying the governor’s office for many weeks to allow Michigan stores to conduct business in a safe and responsible manner. At the beginning of this pandemic, only businesses deemed essential were allowed to sell essential items. 

The Mall at Partridge Creek, on Hall Rd. in Clinton Twp., displays signs that hours are temporarily suspended, Friday afternoon, May 8, 2020, as per the governor's executive orders due to COVID-19. The mall's owner recently defaulted on a $725 million mortgage.

After weeks in which people were driven to buy online or in essential stores, small businesses were finally allowed to sell curbside or online — if they have a website.

That’s not the case with many small retailers, who rely on personal relationships and customer service as their sales tools. We’re deeply concerned about permanent closures of stores that simply cannot make it without two months’ worth of revenue.

Here’s a shortened version of a letter I sent to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, advocating for the reopening of retail before Memorial Day weekend:

William J. Hallan is president and CEO of Michigan Retailers Association.

It’s time to open the door to all retail storefronts. Retailers have proven they can operate while keeping both their employees and customers safe. The industry has reached a critical breaking point. In an April 21 letter, we highlighted the concern that many retailers would not be able to survive a shutdown past May 1. We are well past that date, and each day their doors remain closed, the likelihood of permanent damage increases. In fact, many retailers have already closed the doors on a business they worked so hard to create. 

Curbside pickup and delivery are only temporary solutions for the industry. Simply put, Michigan’s brick and mortar retailers need customers in their stores to survive. The current policy still favors online retailers that have no presence in our state. Our members heavily rely on sales from Easter, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day to sustain their spring business. 

We know your most important concern is safety, which is why we’ve outlined precautions retailers are ready to take to get back to work. In addition, all consumer traffic is occurring at essential businesses, with customers often waiting in a queue to enter. Opening all retail will alleviate the congestion at those essential retailers, allowing a more natural form of consumer social distancing.

Studies on the indoor transmission of COVID-19 have shown that just two percent of SARS outbreaks were linked to shopping while nearly 80% occurred in close living quarters. Infections most often occur at home, in workplaces, on public transport, at social gatherings, and in restaurants. In contrast, outbreaks spread from shopping appear to be responsible for a small percentage of traced infections. 

Several states similarly situated to Michigan have either already reopened retail or are on the verge of doing so. Michigan should be no different. Indiana and Wisconsin reopened on May 11 and Ohio reopened on May 12. Minnesota is set to reopen on May 18 and Kentucky is reopening on May 20. Opening all retail doors, rather than picking and choosing, will allow customers to have more shopping options to pick up what they want and need. Furthermore, retail has already developed and tested best practices to keep shoppers safe, many of which you’ve included in executive orders.

It will take time for consumers to regain confidence and financial stability to start spending again, so the sooner we reopen the doors and get people back to work, the sooner we will see a positive impact in revenue estimates. With our economic engine shut off, we will continue to lose critical sales tax and income tax dollars that fund our schools and provide state and local services to taxpayers. 

Retail is safe. And retail is ready. We urge you to reopen all retail doors before Memorial Day weekend. 

William J. Hallan is president and CEO of Michigan Retailers Association.