Entrepreneurs Adapt As Coronavirus Outbreak Spreads

By Brad Devereaux mlive.com

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Business owners are creatively responding to decisions from government and public health officials on what they can and can not do during this unprecedented situation.

KALAMAZOO, MI

While some fear the catastrophic economic impact that may result from the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, many local entrepreneurs are adapting in an effort to stay afloat in the midst of the crisis.

Owners are being forced to move quickly, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 coronavirus cases climb exponentially in the U.S. The first cases in Michigan triggered statewide orders impacting many industries.

In Southwest Michigan, the virus and resulting actions have caused some small businesses to go online, and others to send their workers home to work remotely.

Some have found a path forward, though often operating on a fraction of their typical revenue. Others have closed altogether.

Virtual yoga Kristin Fiore, owner of Down Dog Yoga Center in downtown Kalamazoo, is shifting to online yoga sessions.

It is not a business model she set out with when she opened the studio in April 2014, but something she and her staff have had to implement quickly to adapt to the new restrictions and the atmosphere created by coronavirus.

As the governor announced guidance against large gatherings, the business began by reducing class sizes and removing shared items from the studio.

Participants were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with coming into the studio as the situation progressed, she said.

The business closed its doors on Monday, March 16, and opened the online, virtual studio the following day. After briefly running that operation out of its downtown studio, Down Dog later transitioned to teachers leading yoga sessions from their homes, with a unique home studio set up by each instructor.

Not only has Fiore had to deal with the sudden shift to how the studio operates, but the financial impact as well. Class sizes are not even half what they were before, she said. While the business is running off site, she is still paying rent on the studio.

Fiore said she is thankful for the dedication of her staff.

“We’re trying to keep a sense of connection with our community,” she said. Down Dog Yoga Studio is offering free or reduced rates for people who have lost their source of income, Fiore said.

She is finding solace in the connections with others through the virtual sessions. They allow for some normalcy and offer access to the benefits of yoga, she said, which can help reduce stress and anxiety.

“We’re all in front of our computers now all day so people are dealing with back, neck, shoulder pain and things like that," Fiore said. "So we’re finding that people who are attending these practices virtually are really appreciative of taking a break from the computer from moving their body.

“There have been times I’ve just cried, I’ve just been completely overwhelmed. But what really keeps me going, is the feedback from the students from the community, people who are emailing and texting and chatting in at the end of our practice saying how it was so great to not just take a yoga class online but take it with someone that they know,” Fiore said, holding back emotion.

“To see a familiar face, to attend the class that they’re used to attending,” she said.

Delivery or carryout Dan Templin, 33, and his wife, Jamie, own and operate the The Local, a restaurant and craft beer bar in Centreville, south of Kalamazoo.

Templin, while watching the impact the coronavirus pandemic has brought to restaurants in recent weeks, “came up with a game plan” to switch to exclusively serving pizza and a few other items, and invested $12,000 on several stone pizza ovens.

On the day Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shut down dine-in service, The Local switched from a full-service restaurant and bar into, primarily, a pizza and beer delivery service.

“When she made the order, we came in, the managers and myself were here all day, to figure out what we could do to make it work,” Templin said. Staff left their previous positions and became delivery drivers. They created a pick-up window, and re-opened under the new takeout and delivery model.

The change translated into pizza orders. So many that they had to stop answering the phones on their first Friday night after selling 140 pizzas in the first two and half hours, Templin said.

They have since added more capacity with more staff on, he said. Many of their regular customers remain as delivery or pick-up customers, Templin said.

They also deliver beer including some bottles being aged in the cellar, he said, and the new menu also includes nachos and salads. As many grocery stores are busy or have bare shelves, Templin also started selling milk and eggs to their customers at cost.

Templin said he is happy to provide the service and keep people employed during the situation, though he can’t wait to welcome customers back in to the business.

Craft beer still flowing Despite the sweeping closures, many local breweries in and around Kalamazoo are still running, though it’s not business as usual.

One Well Brewing in Kalamazoo, Presidential Brewing Co. in Portage, and others are open serving take-out beer and food. Wax Wings Brewing and Olde Peninsula Brewpub are among those offering beer delivery.

One Well Brewing owner Chris O’Neill said the pick-up service is a way to offer some hours to employees who were laid off. He called the pick-up business “a band aid, not a cure." The staff miss seeing the customers and each other inside the restaurant and brewery, he said.

Other restaurants in the community offered carryout for a short time before making a decision to temporarily close.

Hopcat offered a takeout service for some time before discontinuing the service and temporarily closing its restaurants in Michigan, including the Kalamazoo location.

Latitude 42, with locations in Portage and Oshtemo Township, offered food to-go for some time before closing temporarily. Texas Corners Brewing did the same.

Uncle Ernie’s Pancake House, a Milwood breakfast spot, changed its normal breakfast hours to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and offered take-out, before deciding to close temporarily.

Bell’s Eccentric Cafe is temporarily closed. The general store is open, and Bell’s is offering curbside beer sales. Concerts at Bell’s have been canceled or postponed. However, the brewery is hosting a virtual concert series instead.

Bell’s released a video on it’s COVID-19 response page that explains how the Kalamazoo County brewery is responding to the threat of the virus: The Crossroads Mall in Portage announced it was temporarily closed this week, while outward-facing “essential” businesses may remain open.

Early closures The businesses mentioned above have indicated they plan to re-open once the threat of COVID-19 in Michigan passes.

Some other businesses will not.

The owners of TakoKat in Paw Paw said coronavirus was the tipping point in a decision to close the restaurant permanently.

Brann’s Steakhouse in Portage said the virus was the last straw and the restaurant, part of a regional chain based in Grand Rapids, has also closed for good.

The businesses that have not decided to close remain focused on their path forward, watching and responding as decisions from government officials and advice from public health officials change the landscape. For many small business owners, the unprecedented situation with no clear end in sight has bred uncertainty and concern for their future.

Meanwhile, the changes in society due to coronavirus and efforts to stop it are becoming increasingly noticeable as the virus spreads.

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