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Detroit, Harper Woods businesses cautiously optimistic as quarantine measures are lowered

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published June 18, 2020

 Marlin Hughes, the owner of the Detroit Pepper Co., a takeout restaurant on East Warren Avenue in Detroit, poses with one of his employees as they run out a food order for curbside takeout during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Marlin Hughes, the owner of the Detroit Pepper Co., a takeout restaurant on East Warren Avenue in Detroit, poses with one of his employees as they run out a food order for curbside takeout during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Photo provided by Marlin Hughes

 Jeff Joseph, the president of Exway Electric Lighting Gallery and Supply in Harper Woods, and his cousin, Lisa Joseph Ruggirello, the vice president, continued to sort and ship orders after the COVID-19 quarantine shut down the business’s showroom.

Jeff Joseph, the president of Exway Electric Lighting Gallery and Supply in Harper Woods, and his cousin, Lisa Joseph Ruggirello, the vice president, continued to sort and ship orders after the COVID-19 quarantine shut down the business’s showroom.

Photo provided by Lisa Joseph

DETROIT/HARPER WOODS — On June 1, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rescinded her “Safer at Home” order and moved the state into a new phase of her administration’s plan for fighting COVID-19. Many local businesses are hoping this marks the light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Local businesses that are opening back up again, or in many cases returning to full service, said that so far the response to the new phase has been positive.

“Traffic in the store has been good the last few days, and people want to spend some money. This is our first week back to our normal hours, and we’re not seeing the same numbers as usual, but things are better,” said Lisa Joseph Ruggirello, the vice president of Exway Electric Lighting Gallery & Supply in Harper Woods, “We’re hopeful for the future. We’ve had a good response from people so far.”

Ruggirello said the last few weeks have been a challenge for anyone running a business.

“We stayed open and filled orders, but the supply side of things was closed down the entire quarantine, and our showroom was closed because it was nonessential,” she explained. “We absolutely took a hit, because the showroom was closed down for more than a month, but we do sell online, so that helped. A lot of the contractors that usually do business with us also weren’t ordering, so that also was hard.”

Not all businesses suffered during the quarantine, however. Marlin Hughes, the owner of the Detroit Pepper Co., a takeout restaurant on East Warren Avenue in Detroit, said that while extra effort was needed to ensure the health and safety of both his employees and customers, his business increased.

“I’m a carryout-only restaurant, so business has been good,” said Hughes. “I saw people ordering more healthy, I think, because of concerns about health, but my orders went up.”

Both shared how taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was a constant concern.

“Most employees had decided not to come in, so it was mostly my cousin (and business President) Jeff Joseph and two girls working in the office the whole time,” said Ruggirello. “We were cleaning and wiping everything down all the time. Everyone made sure to wash their hands and stay hygienic.”

“I’ve been doing a lot of what I’ve always done: sanitize constantly, use gloves when I cook and use face masks and face shields,” added Hughes. “We do a little extra, like wiping down the doors and counters more and putting out hand sanitizer. It’s a small restaurant, so setting up curbside pickup wasn’t a big deal.”

Communities such as Harper Woods have been taking action to help support local businesses in whatever ways they could during the crisis. While few could offer monetary assistance, often communities could walk business owners through the process of seeking aid or outside support.

“We had a webinar a few weeks ago about resources for business owners,” said Harper Woods Economic and Community Development Director Ty Hinton. “It was well received. We at the city have been trying to pass information like that whenever possible.”

Business owners in the area seem to be cautiously optimistic about the quarantine restrictions being lowered and are hopeful it is the end of the crisis.

“I don’t have any concerns about the restrictions being lowered. We have to be careful though,” Ruggirello said. “Most people who come in wear masks, and we put ours on if they don’t have one. We just need to use common sense and keep taking precautions like keeping everything clean and wiped down regularly.”

Although he said his business was in a rare position to improve under the quarantine, Hughes said he feels similarly about the measures being lifted.

“More businesses opening back up will help me tremendously, since I am between a hair salon and barbershop, and they were feeding (customers) to my business a lot,” he said.

Hinton said the Harper Woods community is hopeful that business can return to normalcy soon, but people are concerned about Eastland Mall, which had already been struggling for some time before the quarantine.

“The mall was shut down, and a lot of the businesses along Kelly Road were closed, too,” he said. “Things are starting to open back up again, and we’re expecting most of them to come back, if not all of them. We are worried that some weren’t able to handle this long closure, financially.”

Hinton said resources are available to many businesses that are still struggling.

“(Business owners) can reach out to Wayne County,” he said. “They have a series of seminars about getting government money. Score also is helping businesses get stimulus money.”

Score is an organization that tries to help small businesses through mentoring and education. More information on Score can be found at detroit.score.org.