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Downtown Farmington copes with temporary COVID-19 closures

DDA establishing curbside pickup location, online campaign to help

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published March 30, 2020

 Downtown Farmington is quiet March 16.

Downtown Farmington is quiet March 16.

File photo by Jonathan Shead

After Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-9, temporarily closing theaters, bars, casinos, and several other places of public accommodation, and limited restaurants to carry-out and delivery only, many Farmington businesses have been grappling with what that means for their establishment. 

For many it will certainly mean fewer patrons, if any, inside their business. For some it could mean cutting staff or reducing hours. Some, unfortunately, may have to close up shop for good. 

Whitmer’s executive order went into place at 3 p.m. March 16. Following that order, all “non-critical” businesses in Michigan were ordered to close by midnight in an executive order March 23.

Farmington’s business community isn’t fighting this alone, however. 

Downtown Development Authority Director Kate Knight said the DDA has ordered a dozen curbside pickup signs to be placed along Grand River Avenue and Grove Street to provide customers and businesses with a safe and quick in-and-out transaction. The DDA has also created a social media campaign, #GermFreeJoy, that will give business owners a chance to show off their store’s offerings online and promotes consumers to shop virtually at businesses that are still open. 

“We understand that small businesses are having to make some tough decisions. We’re all processing the situation in real time as some of these state mandates roll out,” Knight said. 

Knight explained the system, as it’s new, is not perfect and may be subject to changes. 

 

Grappling with the unknowns 

For many Farmington business owners, the unknowns currently outweigh the knowns. 

Farmington Brewing Co. Owner Jason Schlaff said his business already lived weekend to weekend before the closures. Now he’s just trying to take it day by day. 

“It’s affecting everybody, and we hope it’s just a hiccup for a short period of time, and we can start working things back into the system as much as we can,” Farmington Civic Theater General Manager Scott Freeman said. “I wish I had a crystal ball to say, ‘Yes, this is what’s going to happen.’” 

 

Cutting back 

Jobs are in jeopardy throughout the city. 

Schlaff said he may have to start cutting part-time workers at Farmington Brewing Co. soon. 

“It looks like that may be the case,” he said earlier in March. “Of course, it’s not something I’m happy about. I’m certainly not going to be paid anytime soon,” he said. “I’m basically giving my full-time staff priority because they’re the ones who are on our medical benefits program too, and I have to maintain a certain amount of hours for them to be considered eligible.” 

Schlaff has been investigating the state’s different programs that may be available to his workers who see a reduction of hours. He said anyone who is temporarily laid off due to the closure will be able to come back to work for him once Whitmer’s order is lifted. 

“I wouldn’t blame staff for leaving if they found another job,” he said. “There’d be no ill will.” 

Sink or swim mentality 

As restaurants like Farmington Brewing Co. pivot their focus to offering carry-out options only, and retail stores shift their focus to online sales, many in the entertainment industry “are dead in the water,” Freeman said. 

Streaming movies for patrons online isn’t an option due to copyright and piracy concerns. A feasible option for streaming concerts, and paying the performers, hasn’t come across Freeman’s desk yet. Freeman had to cancel the most recent “Live!” concert performance, featuring Olivia Dear, due to the closure. He said the concert likely would have been a sellout. 

“As long as this goes on, we’re dead in the water as far as the building is concerned,” Freeman said. “It’s a really difficult situation. It’s not that we’ve stopped thinking about things, and we’ll continue to do that. We haven’t thought of anything that would work in the entertainment realm quite yet.” 

Schlaff said his company hasn’t been a complete ghost town since Whitmer’s order. He’s had some pickup orders called in and is also offering growler and beer refills through carry-out. 

He thinks the DDA’s curbside pickup locations will help his and other restaurants along the city’s downtown strip. 

Weighing most heavily on Schlaff, beyond these closures, is whether to resign his building lease at his downtown Farmington location, a decision he has to make by May. 

“I think everything will bounce back eventually, but it will be a bit of a different landscape,” he said. 

 

Returning to normal 

Many restaurants and businesses may still feel the impacts of the governor’s ordered closures even after they’re able to open up shop again. 

“I think it’s going to be a slow process. It’s not going to be like someone just turning the lights on ... and everything is back to normal,” Clothes Encounters owner Larry Sallen said. “People are still going to be cautious, and we’ll have to adjust our business as necessary.” 

Freeman believes the Farmington Civic Theater will be able to pick up where the theater left off, though he may be impacted by movies currently opting to move their release dates to the summer or fall, meaning he wouldn’t receive the rights to preview those movies until even later. 

In that interim, he’s discussed the possibility of adding more concerts or hosting special cult-type movie nights, such as “Princess Bride” or “Back to the Future.” 

“I think people will be hungry to get back to what we would consider normal lives — going out to restaurants and movie theaters,” Freeman said. “People love being social … so I think we’re going to do OK. I think most places will, because people are going to be tired of not doing that for quite a long time.” 

Schlaff said at the end of the day if he lost his business but  didn’t jeopardize anyone’s safety, “that’s a far better weight on my soul for the rest of my life.” 

“If we make it through, I think it’ll be great. I think we would come through and it’ll be like a grand re-opening situation for a lot of businesses, at least the ones that made it through.” 

Knight recommends contacting businesses individually to figure out how to support them and get what you need within the current restrictions. Many businesses are offering non-expirable gift cards, delivery services and more. 

More information can be found on individual businesses' or Downtown Farmington’s Facebook pages. 

Call Staff Writer Jonathan Shead at (586) 498-1093.