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Customers embrace new normal

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A group of ladies enjoy a glass of wine under the sun in downtown Alpena, after the Thunder Bay Winery began serving cocktails Friday. Many local businesses were able to open just in time for Memorial Day Weekend.

On March 16, an order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed restaurant dining rooms.

A week later, stores deemed non-essential had to close their doors during a statewide effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

On Friday, retail shops, restaurants, and offices in much of northern Michigan, including Alpena, Montmorency, and Presque Isle counties, were allowed to reopen, only four fast-paced days since Whitmer surprised many business owners with the news that they could get back to offering their food, goods, and services to local residents.

Some businesses opened with a bang, mandated safety measures firmly in place. Others declined, not yet ready to welcome back their long-absent customers.

Inside the stores and restaurants, area residents — masked, maskless, tentative or fed up with state-required precautions — got a glimpse of what the new normal might look like.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Local Basket Case owner Griffin James, left, finishes a transaction with Cindy Kwast while at the store Friday. James said he was pleased with the amount of customers visited on his first day open since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

ALPENA COUNTY

In Alpena County, business owners and their customers were all smiles after being allowed to open for the first time in nearly two months.

By early afternoon, people from Alpena and from out of the area confidently walked in and out of the stores that were open and peered through the windows of those taking a little more time to resume business.

A large table of women enjoyed a glass of wine outside the Thunder Bay Winery and Brew and toasted those who were passing by. It was as clear as the afternoon sky that they were happy to be able to let off some steam in time to kick off Memorial Day Weekend.

Downtown Scoops ice cream shop wasn’t allowing people into the store yet, but was delivering its products to those who were in line outside the building. Owner Aaron Buza said his staff is getting settled into being back to work, and he intends to open the lobby around June 1. He said from early afternoon on, it was busy and added there were a lot of people from out of town, as well as local families eager to get a cool, sweet treat.

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Oscoda resident Jonny Martin secures a canoe to his vehicle Friday at the Brownlee Lake Boat Launch in Lincoln.

Local Basket Case owner Griffin James had a display of Alpena-themed attire outside the store, which lured people inside. He said being able to let people back into the store felt good, and the fact that he had a steady flow of customers was also a plus.

“I’m very happy,” he said. “Today has been a good day and there have been a lot of people downtown.”

MONTMORENCY COUNTY

“It’s about time we reopened,” said Dan Painter, owner of Chauncey’s Pub in Hillman.

Painter, along with his three other friends, sat down for a meal in the restaurant Friday afternoon as the pub opened its dine-in sitting area to customers.

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Village of Lincoln Trustee William Putsky on Friday checks that the old aeration system was removed from Brownlee Lake while at the boat launch.

Painter said his business had to close its indoor dining area on March 16, after Whitmer ordered restaurants to close dine-in options.

Since mid-March, Painter said his business was open for take-out food options, but the restaurant still took a financial hit with the lack of customers that would normally come in to eat.

Painter said when you’ve been closed for more than 70 days, there is definitely a loss of revenue.

Since the shutdown, Painter has made some changes to the interior of his business.

While following the requirement to not seat more than 50% of their capacity, the restaurant has added new chairs and maple wood tables placed strategically with social distancing in mind. The tables resemble the color of the cabin-like walls and bartop in the pub. The back of the bar is now wrapped with a metal material for surface protection.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Kids and grownups relax with ice cream on a warm Friday afternoon in Onaway as some area businesses and restaurants reopen for business.

Trapper Linseman, owner of Trapper’s Tree Trimming, said his company cut the maple trees in Montmorency County and transformed them into tables for Painter’s restaurant before the reopening on Friday.

Painter, Linseman, and Linseman’s two employees, Jack and Fisher, all agreed that it is great to have the pub and other businesses open for people to come inside and eat, noting they feel that it is safe to be out again in their community.

“I’m happy we’re open,” Painter said. “Otherwise we’d be over in the welfare department office.”

PRESQUE ISLE COUNTY

Mr. Mustache and Company, a Rogers City toy store, rang up one sale on Friday, the store’s owner said – which is, at least, one more than they’ve had the last two months.

News Photo by Julie Riddle A customer purchases a new camera lens at J & L Camera and Electronics in Rogers City on Friday, the day many northern Michigan businesses were allowed to open for the first time in over two months.

Even through a mask, the new-furniture smell at Rogers City Home Furnishings welcomed customers back Friday. Traffic was steady during the day, employees said, as it was during the week and a half when the store was open by appointment only.

J & L Camera and Electronics stayed open the past two months as an essential business, and its business has picked up lately, the owner said. Many of the faces in the Rogers City store lately are unfamiliar, he said, and most of the new customers are looking for television antennas for their Up North second homes.

In Onaway, an empty parking lot fronted Wood Winds Restaurant, while cars pulled up steadily in front of Manzana’s Restaurant, where attentive employees brought food out to customers. The dining room isn’t open yet, though.

Down the street, cars, trucks, and a motorcycle lined the curb outside Havel’s Northland Grill & Lounge.

Lighthouse Pizza in Rogers City was planning to open this weekend, but they heard they were the only restaurant who was ready, and they were nervous that they were going to get swamped, so they’re waiting until June 1.

Tables at Up North 23 Restaurant & Lounge in Rogers City were gently full most of the day, the owner said, and take-out orders had been brisk. The owner had heard that restaurants might be flooded with people coming up from downstate, but he recognized almost every masked face that came through the door.

As servers at the restaurant delivered dinner to indoor diners for the first time in a long time, the governor’s latest order came in, extending the stay-at-home order another two weeks.

The business would just have to adjust some more, the owner said.

ALCONA COUNTY

While other restaurants, retail stores and offices in the region were reopening, Alcona County residents and businesses continued to carry on with the same old stay-at-home order.

Many Harrisville and Lincoln residents enjoyed the sunny weather on Friday, when they went for walks, mowed the lawn, and planted their gardens. Restaurants continued to offer curbside pickup, with the addition of outdoor seating, and business at the dollar stores, grocery stores and hardwares was thriving.

Dockside Cafe Manager Melissa Page said the business has been able to remain open for curbside pickup during the shutdown and had a great start to the holiday weekend.

She said business may have “taken a little hit” because the campground at Harrisville State Park isn’t open, which is where a lot of their summer business comes from. Otherwise, she said everyone “seems to be in a good mood” and doing what they’re supposed to.

“I’m just really grateful for this community,” she said. “They’ve definitely been behind us through all of this.”

Business at the Lincoln Kris Mart was continuous around 1 p.m. Friday, with nearly every parking space full and few patrons wearing masks.

At the Brownlee Lake Boat Launch, Oscoda residents Jonny and Courtney Martin were packing up their watercraft. The couple had been touring lighthouses and state parks before heading back to Oscoda to celebrate the holiday weekend.

William Putsky, trustee with the Lincoln Village Council, was also at the boat launch checking to see that all 28 pods from the lake’s aeration system had been removed after new pods were installed.

Putsky, who was wearing a mask, said he’s one of those people who are being “extremely careful.”

He expressed frustration that more people aren’t wearing masks, but thought they might be emboldened, since none of the Alcona County residents infected with coronavirus had a Lincoln zip code.

“Under normal circumstances, my wife and I are extremely social,” he said. “But, these are not normal circumstances.”

News Photos by Meakalia Previch-Liu Dan Painter, owner of Chauncey’s Pub in Hillman, sits with friends after eating a meal Friday afternoon. The pub opened its dine-in sitting area Friday after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order Monday allowing businesses such as bars and restaurants in northern Michigan to reopen at 50% capacity.

News Photo by Meakalia Previch-Liu Chauncey’s Pub in Hillman put in new maple wood tables since the restaurant closed March 16. The pub opened its dine-in sitting area Friday after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order Monday allowing businesses such as bars and restaurants in northern Michigan to reopen at 50% capacity.

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