Molly Pitcher’s Dining is reopening for dine-in customers in Lyon Township, Michigan today, despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders that restaurants throughout much of the state can only offer take-out at the moment. Whitmer released an executive order on Monday allowing retail establishments in the northern part of the state, including restaurants, to reopen on Friday at 50-percent capacity, but Lyon Township is in the southern part of the state, and is still under lockdown for the time being.
That’s not stopping Huron Valley Guns owner Ed Swadish, who set up Molly Pitcher’s inside his gun shop a few years. Swadish says that he has and will continue to take steps to keep customers safe, but argues that the current fight over what businesses can reopen and when has turned into a fight about politics, not public safety.
Swadish said the coronavirus “is real and very sad.” While he had signed up for shutting down until the virus’ rate of infection flattened, even closing the gun shop voluntarily for two weeks in March when an employee had a fever — it turned out not to be COVID-19, he says — Swadish insists the issue has become political and that is why he now is reopening the restaurant.
“I am not going to lose my business because politicians are playing political games,” he said.
Instead, he plans restaurant hours running 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and then 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. He is expecting 50-75 customers for opening day, and they will be served by four to five waitstaff and a cook, all of whom he said will be wearing N95 masks and gloves.
While Swadish joked about being ready for handcuffs, he believes that he won’t face any sanctions from local authorities for reopening the restaurant, and he’s not the only business owner in Lyon Township who plans on reopening before the governor gives the green light.
Eric Konopka, owner of the Michigan Fireworks Company, will reopen his store Friday, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend.
His reopening, he said, is not political, but driven by timing.
“We understand there are two sides to every story, some people agree (with the executive orders) and some don’t, but we don’t want to be in a political battle,” Konopka said. “I want to open, create revenue for my family and allow people to enjoy fireworks this weekend.”
Memorial Day weekend is one of the biggest weekends of the year for his business, tied for second in sales with New Year’s, and only behind the July 4 weekend as the biggest profit generator.
“If we miss this weekend, we might as well pack up shop,” Konopka said.
Konopa’s wife is actually an ICU nurse who has worked with COVID-19 patients, and like Swadish, the fireworks store owner says he believes the threat posed by the coronavirus is real. Konopa says, however, that he’ll be taking precautions to keep his store sanitized, including offering masks for customers to wear.
“We don’t want to break the executive order, or rules, we are law abiding citizens,” Konopka said. “But we are extremely seasonal. There are only a few weekends when we can sell fireworks and we don’t want to not pay the rent. Come out and see us and be safe and we’ll be safe.”
Swadish and Konopa aren’t the caricatures of reopen advocates that the media loves to portray. They’re reasonable and rational, they’re not spouting off conspiracy theories, and they’re not minimizing the risks posed by the coronavirus. They’re simply trying to keep their family businesses afloat, and believe that they can do so safely and responsibly. Whether or not officials in Oakland County will allow them do so remains to be seen, but I expect that there’ll be plenty of folks enjoying a “Freedom Burger” at Molly Pitcher’s for lunch today.
Like it or not, Gov. Whitmer needs to understand that she’s going to see a lot more of this in the days ahead. Many business owners are frustrated, not only by the governor’s executive orders, but the haphazard and arbitrary proclamations coming from her office. Even restaurant owners in parts of the state that have been told they can reopen are still struggling to figure out the new rules from Whitmer’s office.
“I’m really at a loss,” said Sharon Zulski, owner of the Keyhole Bar and Grille in Mackinaw City. “Some people are saying you have to do this or that, but we’re really not clear on all the guidelines we have to follow. One person said we have to have disposable menus and another said no you don’t. Someone said you have to remove all the furniture that won’t be used for the seating, and I just don’t have a place to move all that to. At this point there’s just so many unanswered questions.”
Some business owners aren’t waiting for their questions to be answered, and I can’t say that I blame them. Whitmer’s heavy-handed and authoritarian response to the coronavirus has left a lot to be desired, and I won’t be surprised if more businesses choose to simply defy the governor’s orders going forward and reopen for customers with safety protocols in place.