By Carol Stiffler
Shortly after Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered the state’s restaurants to close dining rooms and switch to carry-out or delivery, Timber Charlie’s owner Ray Mahaffy decided his restaurant would simply close.
Whitmer’s mandate came on March 16, and by March 17, Timber Charlie’s stopped cooking. Between then and now, Mahaffy has had the floors stripped and covered with a shiny resin, then laid down antibacterial floor coverings. The ceiling got a fresh coat of paint. The walls re-stained. Mahaffy bought new tables. He had the bathrooms transitioned to touchless – water, soap, paper towel, and even the urinal will now function automatically.
“This restaurant has been open 32 or 33 years,” said Mahaffy, who has owned the place for 15 years. ”I’ve been going there 25 years, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the inside look like it does now. It’s all have-to-dos. If you don’t make the changes, people aren’t going to come.”
Mahaffy says changes like these are part of the “new world” created in the midst of, and then the wake of, the coronavirus pandemic.
“When you go out, you’re going to have to feel like you’re OK,” he said. “I’m not picking on anybody. Our expectations as customers and guests are going to be different when this comes out in the wash.”
Timber Charlie’s re-opened for take-out orders on Monday, May 4.
Whitmer originally closed restaurant dining rooms through April 5, but has since extended the order. At present, restaurants do not have a reopen date.
Some industries do: construction can resume on Thursday, May 7. Garden centers reopened and landscaping came back online at the end of April. Businesses that sell non-essential items can resume operations by offering curbside pick-up service.
Industries that are not so fortunate include any that involve gathering in public spaces. Libraries, for example, will be closed through May 28.
Whitmer says she and her team of advisors are analyzing each industry for the risk of transmission among its workforce – how closely together employees work, how many employees are in the building at a time, and so on. The group has also divided the state into eight regions according to population. The Upper Peninsula is deemed the eighth region, but has yet to receive a protocol specific to the region.
These efforts are underway as Michigan continues to see a reduction in Covid-19 cases. The state experienced an all-time low in reported coronavirus deaths on Sunday, May 3, with only 29 new deaths reported that day. New cases are slowing down, too: there were only 547 new cases reported on May 3.
Whitmer says she is carefully manipulating the re-opening – which she likens to “turning up a dial” – to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 cases.