Michigan’s epidemic order extension a blow to Dowagiac restaurants

DOWAGIAC — Local eateries hoping to open their doors to guests must wait a bit longer.

In a press release Monday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced it has extended the epidemic order that restricts indoor social gatherings and other group activities by 12 days.

The additional 12 days will allow the department to determine the full impact of the Thanksgiving holiday on the spread of COVID-19 across Michigan.

“Within our community, restaurants represent the greatest number of businesses affected by the Pause to Save Lives,” said Vickie Phillipson, program director for the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Authority. “They are also the businesses that are hanging on by a thread from the first and second shutdown. For the past several years, Dowagiac has been known regionally for its fine and casual dining. It is hard to imagine what our community would look like without Caruso’s, China Garden, Saylor’s, Wood Fire, Wounded Minnow and our other locally owned restaurants. However, that day may come. Even before Monday’s mandate, our restaurants had a lot of ground to make up.”

The news was a blow to several Dowagiac businesses, which were hoping to open their dine-in space Wednesday in a limited capacity.

“I definitely am all for taking the necessary steps to get everything under control,” said Baker’s Rhapsody owner Jordan Anderson. “I just wish more financial assistance could be given. It would be great to get federal assistance for businesses in need.”

While wedding and event catering opportunities have decreased in recent weeks before the pandemic, Anderson said that walk-in traffic has been steady.

“We have plexiglass and protections inside,” he said. “Dine-in was never a big part of our business plan, so we’re doing OK.”

Anderson hopes members of the community will adhere to proper safety protocols laid out by the health department.

“It would be in everyone’s best interests to follow health and safety guidelines,” he said. “The most important part is to keep everyone safe and following guidelines and getting past this so that we don’t have to deal with more lockdowns.”

Caruso’s Candy and Soda Shop, 130 S. Front St., Dowagiac, will continue to offer its carryout menu during the extension, according to owner Julie Johnson.

“Since they shut us back down, our lunch business has dropped about 75 percent,” Johnson said. “If we had to survive on that right now, we would not be surviving, that’s for sure. I really feel bad for all the other restaurants that don’t have something else to carry them through this bad time.”

While the lunch portion of her business has taken a hit, Johnson said her candy sales have been able to shore up the difference.

“It’s the holiday season and candy is one of the most popular gift items,” Johnson said. “We’ve noticed an increase in chocolate purchases this year.”

“Hot chocolate bombs” — chocolate spheres filled with hot chocolate mix and marshmallows — are in high demand as this year’s trendy treat. Johnson said she is making 191 hot chocolate bombs this week alone.

“It’s crazy,” she said. “We’re selling tons of [chocolate bombs]. Everybody wants them so that’s been very helpful to us. We also have local businesses supporting us. Everyone’s doing what they can to help each other out.”

Phillipson asked community members to continue supporting local businesses during the crucial holiday season.

“As you shop for holiday gifts, please remember these business owners, who had to close their dining rooms, not once, not twice, but for three stints, spanning several weeks,” Phillipson said. “In addition to ordering lunch and dinner out, we can also make a concentrated effort to purchase restaurant gift cards for the holidays. Doing so flushes money into their bank accounts right now — when they desperately need it. Let’s focus today on what we can do to save our business community.”

According to Phillipson, corporate sponsors helped underwrite the Chamber’s sale of Buy One, Get One Free Universal Dowagiac Gift Cards that helped stimulate the economy.

“A vast majority of the gift cards have been redeemed,” Phillipson said. “However, there are approximately 350 gift cards that have yet to be used. If you’ve been saving your gift card for a special time, this may be it. The need to shop locally has never been greater, whether it is at a restaurant or retail location. All of our businesses need your help.”

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