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Mackinac Island adapted to virus, tourism stayed healthy

News Photo by Alyssa Ochss Flowers hang on lamp posts on Mackinac Island during the summer.

MACKINAC ISLAND — From historic sites to coffee shops, no business was left unchanged when it came to new COVID-19 safety measures on Mackinac Island.

By the end of the summer, it became the new normal, and businesses adjusted accordingly.

One of the most notable changes was protective glass put up in every store. If the store was too small, workers wore masks and they asked their customers to “mask up,” as well. Signs picturing a horse wearing a mask, socially distancing, and washing its hooves were posted as an added reminder.

Hand sanitizer stations could be found at the entrance of most shops, and capacity limits were enforced and posted on front doors.

Despite the changes, “business on the island this season has been better than expected,” Tim Hygh, supervisor at The Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau, said in an email to The News. “We lost all of May and a lot of June, but we have been steady since we opened. Labor Day was extremely busy, and we are looking forward to see what the Fall brings our way.”

News Photo by Alyssa Ochss The Joann’s Fudge sign hangs outside the shop on Mackinac Island to invite summer tourists in.

Historic sites were not immune to the pandemic and enforced their own set of safety measures.

Dominick Miller, marketing manager at Fort Mackinac, said the fort had a lot of events planned for the summer, and most of them had to be canceled.

“This is our 125th anniversary season, so we had all kinds of events and things planned all summer long,” Miller said. “We were going to have an event every day to celebrate our anniversary and all these different things. So when the pandemic hit and we were all sent home, it changed our plans for the summer quite a bit. Which is a little disappointing, but allowed us to retool what we were looking at doing for the summer and offer different programs.”

Miller said it’s been a big adjustment to the new normal on the island. He said he wants to be an example for his staff as well as visitors.

“So, when I’m out in one of our public spaces, I’m definitely going to have my mask on and set an example for other staff and our visitors here that we take it seriously, and we hope they do, as well,” Miller said.

News Photo by Alyssa Ochss Tourists and workers make their way down Main Street during a busy summer day on Mackinac Island.

The fort limited capacity in its buildings and people were more spread out during outdoor activities such as rifle firing demonstrations. Events such as Movies at the Fort and Movies at the Bridge were kept because proper social distancing measures could be practiced.

Fudge shops, restaurants, and coffee shops paid special attention to the rules to protect customers and employees from the virus.

Jennifer Bates, a manager at Joann’s Fudge, on Main Street, said she and her employees are doing whatever they can when it comes to the safety of guests and staff.

“I want people to be aware that we are being very safe about not giving COVID to our island workers and to our island residents that we hold so dear to us,” Bates said. “Just expect an extra level of safety. We do think social distancing is very important and mask-wearing, you know, it’s very safe.”

Bates also wanted people to know her staff and other island workers are trying to make everyone’s vacation enjoyable in a shorter amount of time than usual. When the virus hit Michigan in mid-March, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered businesses closed to prevent the virus’ spread. Up North businesses were allowed to reopen Memorial Day weekend.

News Photo by Alyssa Ochss A carriage rides up the road to Fort Holmes during a hot summer day.

“Be aware that this staff, where we usually have a long time getting used to July, where we work up to a busy season, we went from zero to busy in two days, so we were a little overwhelmed,” Bates said. “Be kind to everyone and be kind to the workers and see that we’re trying to make everyone’s experience very positive.”

Along with the other fudge shops, Joann’s Fudge has put up glass to protect guests and staff. Bates said later in a text to The News that “employees are tightly monitoring their health” and “their temperatures are taken daily.”

Coffee shops also operate a bit differently this year. All over the island, self-service coffee-making stations are no longer available, and baristas put creamer in your coffee for you. “Bring your own mug” rewards and discounts that were available in previous years are gone, as well.

Carolyn May is the owner of Lucky Bean Coffeehouse on Market Street. May has a five-person capacity in her shop and protective glass in front of the cashier station and barista station, along with other forms of protection.

At the beginning of the pandemic, May said her mental health took a toll and she became sad.

News Photo by Alyssa Ochss Taxis and tourists ride up the street leading to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island during the summer.

“I was concerned about not being there for your repeat customers that come in the store every year,” May said. “I opened a coffee shop because of the people and letting them down put me at an emotional feeling. It took a toll on me mentally, because I want to be there for everybody, but at the same time, health is number one.”

May said the number of customers dropped in comparison to previous years, which she said is likely because “locals are not comfortable with the visitors, so they want to stay home.”

May also said she is trying her best to not only protect customers, but her staff with the extra safety measures. That includes sanitizing after rushes and making sure her health, as well as her staff’s, is good.

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