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Small business owners reflect on effect of shutdown

By: Kayla Dimick, Tiffany Esshaki | Southfield Sun | Published June 9, 2020

 Store owner Chris Denha said the team at Foodland is doing everything they can to keep shoppers safe.

Store owner Chris Denha said the team at Foodland is doing everything they can to keep shoppers safe.

Photo by Kayla Dimick


SOUTHFIELD — As the state gradually reopens, local small business owners are reflecting on the effect the coronavirus shutdown had on their business.

For the last several months, local businesses have been hanging on, waiting to fully reopen soon and serve their neighbors any way they can during this crisis.

Since restaurants had been closed throughout the COVID-19 shutdown, Chris Denha, the owner of the 8 Mile Foodland grocery store, said he saw business pick up, but not without cost.

“We’ve definitely been busier because of the fact that there’s no restaurants and everybody’s been home,” Denha said. “Business has been better, but of course, employees are stressed and scared. We’ve had to take a lot of precautions.”

Denha said staff put up plexiglass around the cashier stations and have been implementing social distancing by placing markers on the floor.

“In the beginning days, it was very scary. Everybody was worried, and we had some employees that stayed home, but the majority did stay and work, and we appreciate that. It was challenging, of course. We had less employees, and workers were on overload.”

Denha said he and his team have been following the guidelines laid out by Oakland County; have been providing the necessary personal protective equipment for employees, such as masks and gloves; and have been limiting the number of customers allowed in the store at one time.

The store also shut down its lottery station for safety reasons.

“We just had so many people going to the lottery machine that we shut it down. They were all talking and playing their numbers, and it wasn’t safe,” he said. “The lottery has been off for over two months now.”

As restrictions across the state ease up, Denha said Foodland is still committed to safety.

“We’re still doing the same thing. Still doing social distancing, keeping the glass at the registers,” he said. “We are still doing all that we can and will still be 100% safe.”

To help small businesses that have been negatively affected by the shutdown, on May 29, the Southfield City Council passed a resolution to allow restaurants to expand their outdoor dining areas. The resolution also allows barbers, hair stylists and nail technicians to provide personal services, such as hair grooming, manicures and pedicures outside an established business.

“The city of Southfield continually strives to assist local and international businesses by cutting red tape and rolling out the red carpet,” City Planner Terry Croad said in a prepared statement. “During this difficult time, we are making every effort to support both our businesses and residents while doing so as safely and quickly as possible.”

Officials said that, while all business operations and opening dates will remain subject to the governor’s executive orders, the planning and building departments are reducing fees and expediting approvals.

A submittal checklist and complete guidelines of the ordinance are available on the city’s website,

“This resolution provides residents with much-needed services while also helping businesses to get back in operation as soon as feasible,” Croad said in the statement.

While the lockdown was designed to reduce the number of fatal cases of the virus, the economic ramifications can’t be ignored: small businesses are suffering their own ailments. Without the resources and financial backing of stakeholders to lean on, those small, independent operations face not just diminished revenue, but layoffs, missed vendor payments and, in some cases, worse.

Legislators and business associations at every level say they are doing what they can to lessen the blow to those businesses, but what those merchants really need now is support from customers and each other.

Shining a spotlight on community-based organizations and businesses has never been more important, and that’s where the Demers family feels like they can do their part to help merchants recover. As the owners of C & G Newspapers, with 19 publications dedicated to hyperlocal news coverage and advertising, the family feels a huge responsibility to keep residents informed about what is going on in their own backyard, said Managing Editor Gregg Demers.

“I think every business person feels the same way. They’re all pitching in to get everyone through this terrible crisis. That’s when we really see the best in people,” he said. “I’m so pleased with the response from our editors and reporters, and how dedicated they are to getting the job done and keeping readers connected to their community and informed about what’s happening where they live. I think that’s the role we can play to help get through this, and it’s an important one.”

In early June, Oakland County Executive David Coulter announced that a second round of grants will be available to small businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

The most recent grants apply to businesses that can in some way transition their services or manufacturing to provide materials that will help other local businesses to safely reopen after the lockdown.

Outlets able to create essentials like hand sanitizers, protective equipment and barriers, or touchless technologies like thermometers are needed more than ever, and the county wants to incentivize creating those items nearby. The fund has more than $300,000 to distribute and is part of a nearly $14 million in total grants that have been allocated to aid small businesses.

Lots of those locally manufactured personal protective equipment, or PPE, items will be included in the 10,000 reopening toolkits the county has committed to distributing to businesses of 50 employees or fewer. Each kit is stuffed with $400 worth of PPE that can be doled out to staff or employees to keep face-to-face interaction safe as we move forward.

“As many of our small businesses prepare to re-engage with customers, they will find a vastly different environment than the one they knew several months ago,” Coulter said in a prepared statement. “Customers and employees alike are concerned with their health and safety and want businesses to take the necessary steps to keep them protected as they regain their confidence. These grants will provide vital goods and services to our small businesses to help reassure customers their health and safety is a priority.”

Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner added to that effort, hosting a discussion panel for business owners and managers last week with experts to advise on reopening strategies.

Among the ideas discussed by representatives from the Guidepost Solutions consulting firm were solid stay-home policies for ill employees, added sanitation measures like desk partitions, and pandemic organization strategies, like naming a “pandemic coordinator” on the staff.

“Exiting the pandemic presents opportunities for education, preparedness and confidence-building so that local businesses and the people interacting with them remain viable and healthy,” said Meisner in a press release.