Editorial: Time's running out for many businesses

The Detroit News

Michigan business owners are starting to move from feeling concerned about their livelihoods to downright desperate. With many businesses nearing two months of forced closure, some are beginning to defy Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home order. 

We don’t blame them, especially since Whitmer has extended her order through the end of May — despite warnings from the Legislature and business groups about the negative economic impact on the state. 

Owosso barber Karl Manke, 77, has captured the attention of the country, with his decision to start cutting hair again regardless of the punitive action the state may take against him. 

An Owosso police officer asks to talk with Karl Manke outside before ticketing Karl for being open at Karl's barber shop on Wednesday in Owosso.

Manke didn't want to be an outlaw or prove a point. He simply needed the money. 

"I was in despair," Manke said. "I don't have anybody paying me unless I'm doing work."

More:Attorney: Shiawassee judge denies shutdown of Owosso barbershop

More:Editorial: Legislature's lawsuit is necessary, reasonable

On Monday, Manke got a reprieve from a Shiawassee County Circuit judge, who denied a request for a temporary restraining order to close his business from Attorney General Dana Nessel, and the county sheriff earlier said he wasn’t planning to get involved in the situation. 

Manke is one of many in the service and retail economy who’ve seen their businesses and income decimated during the pandemic and the subsequent stay-home orders that deemed the majority of businesses “non-essential.” 

He chose to reopen his shop May 4 and has had customers drive hours for a haircut. He says he can operate his business safely and responsibly and believes he has a right to make a living. 

Yet Owosso police last week cited Manke for a civil infraction and two misdemeanors. He now faces a June 23 court date and a fine of at least $1,000. And on Friday, six Michigan State Police troopers paid him a visit, issuing an order for him to close. 

That seems extreme, and incidents like this will erode the public’s trust in the government.

In recent weeks, Whitmer has started easing some of the restrictions for certain businesses and sectors, such as lawn care, construction and manufacturing.

But many others, including barber shops, salons and restaurants, aren’t so lucky. 

More:Jacques: Whitmer disses Michigan biz community

More:Editorial: Avoid replacing one threat with another

Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, says he’s tried to communicate with the governor just how vital it is for the state’s restaurants to reopen as soon as possible. His group has put together a plan for safe reopening on May 29, assuming Whitmer gives them the go-ahead. 

Winslow says more than half of all states have already reopened restaurant dining in some fashion. 

The longer Michigan waits, the more dire things will get for restaurants and bars, one of the hardest hit industries from COVID-19. 

Since the beginning of the outbreak, 249,000 restaurant employees have been furloughed or laid off in Michigan, and an estimated 53% of restaurants have temporarily closed. 

And 2% have permanently closed. Winslow says about 20 restaurants are closing each day in May — so time is of the essence. 

The industry needs certainty from the governor on reopening, and soon, given the complicated supply chains and other measures they’ll need to put in place ahead of opening their doors. 

“These are pretty dire times,” Winslow says. “It’s about pure survival.” 

Michigan is behind the majority of other states in jumpstarting its economy. Neighboring Ohio, for instance, has a more robust plan in place for reopening. Consumer, retail and service businesses were allowed to open Tuesday, and salons, barbershops, outside restaurants and patios can open Friday. Dine-in locations can open May 21. 

More Michiganians are losing their businesses and livelihoods each day, and this trend will continue as long as the stay-home order prevents them from serving their customers.