NELDON: Entrepreneurial spirit strong as ever amid COVID crisis

Wednesday evening, a line of vehicles wrapped around Third Street and down Broadway in Niles for several blocks. The traffic was not the result of an auto accident or construction, but rather a large group of Michiana residents with a common goal: to support local business.

The line moved quickly through the outskirts of downtown Niles as vehicle after vehicle made it to 3 N. Third St., where the smell of cheese curds and fresh hamburgers emanated from Iron Shoe Distillery for the first time in more than a month.

The show of support for the beloved restaurant was heartwarming, but not surprising. As a downtown resident, I have been pleased to see the traffic to our downtown restaurants continue in a steady trickle in spite of the coronavirus-related closures. More than once in the last several weeks, Pizza Transit has had to stop taking orders due to the overwhelming traffic, and Iron Shoe had to follow suit an hour after opening Wednesday. As they have hunkered down at home, people have made the trek downtown to pick up homemade barbecue, sweet treats and healthy protein shakes.

I have been moved, but again, not surprised, to see the incredible ingenuity of local business owners who have had to adapt the way they do business — and in some cases, their entire business model.

On Second Street, bar stools and tabletops once filled with craft cocktails and customers have been replaced by cases of beer and bottles of wine. Longtime entrepreneur Bryan Williams was quick to adapt his business model at The Brass Eye to satisfy the changing needs and restrictions presented by COVID-19. Instead of pouring cocktails behind the bar, Williams can be found safely delivering wine and beer to loyal customers on their doorsteps.

The Mendez family has also been mobile — offering authentic Mexican fare in the East Main Street restaurant on weekends and in their taco truck during the week.

After a brief closure, Gabrizio’s Italian Café and Bakery reopened last week, introducing a new menu item (homemade cinnamon rolls!) and other locally baked goodies on a limited schedule.

And Apothica Teas owner Laura Hollister returned as well, providing tea to brew on a to-go basis.

Businesses across southwest Michigan have followed suit, donning masks and doubling up on cleaning efforts in order to safely serve customers during this trying time.

Given the circumstances, many would have thrown in the towel — given in, defeated by the overwhelming obstacles this virus has presented. Our local business owners, however, have rallied on, proving once again the tenacity, determination and positive outlook necessary to operate a business.

Their resilience is fueled by our support. We have proven — and will continue to prove — that we can and will get through this crisis — so long as we do it together.