Small businesses in Michigan share their COVID-19 lessons learned, reopening tips

DTE Energy volunteers distribute PPE to small businesses in Detroit at Detroit’s Eastern Market. (Mark Houston, DTE Energy 2020/photo used with permission)

As pandemic-related rules and regulations impacting small business continue to evolve in the wake of COVID-19, businesses across Michigan continue to reopen in a world with new rules and boundaries.

They continue to adjust their approaches to doing business not only for the safety of their customers, but for the safety of their employees and the broader population within the state and country, and worldwide.

DTE Energy recently spoke with a few Michigan businesses to hear their perspective about their “new normal” and gather some tips that could help other businesses safely reopen.

At Bivouac, a clothing store in Ann Arbor, president AJ Davidson explained that when the store was closed during the initial stay-at-home order, convenience was key.

“We moved toward curbside pickup and deliveries, which helped our sales,” Davidson said. “I would recommend a curbside pickup option and free same-day deliveries, if possible. We offered same-day delivery within a three-mile radius before COVID-19, and extended it to five miles. Deliveries and curbside really made a difference in sales.”

Now, Bivouac is open with new safety measures. Davidson emphasized that customer comfort and confidence are crucial.

“We want to go above and beyond to make our store a safe place to shop. The personal protective equipment (PPE) kits we received through the DTE Energy Foundation arrived just in time for our reopening and allowed us to get up and running as safely and quickly as possible,” Davidson said. “Within our store, we have hand sanitizer stations, and free masks and gloves for customers -- we do require face coverings while shopping. We also have social distance markers in place to show customers what six feet – a safe social distance – looks like, and arrows to guide a safe flow of traffic. We also have Plexiglas that serves as a protective barrier between customers and employees at our registers.”

A PPE kit donated to Bivouac by the DTE Foundation. (Photo used with permission from DTE)

Bivouac employees also participate in health screenings and have implemented increased cleaning protocols.

But how do you tackle cleaning clothes when someone has tried them on?

“When a customer tries something on or returns an item, the item is steamed to better protect customers who may try the item on – or purchase it – in the future,” Davidson said.

Bivouac also uses disinfectant to sanitize footwear.

Tom Murray, owner of Ann Arbor restaurant Conor O’Neill’s, which also received PPE kits from the DTE Energy Foundation, has a few tips of his own to promote safety and comfort for guests.

During the onset of “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, the restaurant closed for three months. Now it’s open with a new safety measures in place.

The city of Ann Arbor closed Main Street to allow extra outdoor seating at restaurants.

“So far, people seem much more comfortable outside, where we seat people at safe social distances,” Murray said. “We moved our indoor tables six feet apart, too. We’ve also been slowly ramping up our operations. I suggest other businesses do the same to make sure you’re prepared to handle everything in our new ‘normal.’”

Murray also emphasized the importance of employee health and safety, giving employees Mondays off so everyone has time to recuperate.

“I want to hear employee and patron suggestions, so we can continue to work together,” Murray said. “I keep stressing this is a new world and there’s learning curve for us all as we continue to ramp up. From sanitizing tables and chairs to social distancing guidelines, we’re doing everything we can to make our guests’ experiences as safe, comfortable and efficient as possible, but these new measures do sometimes result in an increased wait. We’ll continue to work through this together.”

Finally, Murray has a helpful tip for menu safety.

“We recently transitioned our menu, accessible via QR code, online,” he said. “Our guests can scan the code on their mobile devices so they can easily access the menu without touching anything. We also offer disposable menus, but we’ve found 95% of people are using the QR code. This might be something that sticks with us since it seems to be working so well!”

For more information on small business resources during COVID-19, click or tap here. For more about DTE’s involvement with small businesses during COVID-19, visit this link.