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Whitmer closing indoor bar service in lower Michigan, industry calls order 'devastating'

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is shutting downindoor bar service in lower Michigan to slow the spread of coronavirus.

But for some bar owners, it could be “last call.”

The governor signed the executive order Wednesday to combat a rise in COVID-19 cases.  

“Following recent outbreaks tied to bars, I am taking this action today to slow the spread of the virus and keep people safe,” Whitmer said in a written statement. “If we want to be in a strong position to reopen schools for in-person classroom instruction this fall, then we need to take aggressive action right now to ensure we don’t wipe out all the progress we have made.” 

The order exempts bars in the Upper Peninsula and northern lower Michigan. Taverns where food sales make up more than 30% of receipts can also continue indoor service.

The governor also signed new laws intended to help bars and restaurants, including allowing cocktails-to-go.  

Scott Ellis is the executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association. He says the governor’s order is “devastating” and could force 50% of bars in lower Michigan to close permanently.

“My phone is blowing up with members from all over state already and I guarantee they’re panicking.   They can’t survive,” says Ellis, “I had one tell me last week... ‘if she shuts us down again.  I’ll never reopen. I can’t do it’.”

Ellis says new laws allowing bars and restaurants to sell cocktails-to-go and expand social districts to allow for more outdoor seating will do little to help neighborhood bars forced to close their doors. 

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Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.