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Businesses scramble to determine if they can stay open after executive order

Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer's latest executive order is creating some confusion.

The order suspends "activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life."  It goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. March 24th, 2020, and is in place through April 13, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.

Some customers ran on what they thought might be last-minute errands, like Lois Stenger, who dashed to Ace Hardare in Ann Arbor, just in case.

"Well, this is funny," she said, "but it's actually floor cleaner, there's one floor cleaner I like that I'm low on, so I'm getting it today."

But Ace Hardware staff said they believe the Governor's order will allow them to stay open. 

That's because they sell plumbing and electrical items that could be necessary to sustain or protect life.

Credit Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
A Kroger employee disinfects the handles of a shopping cart for a customer

Some computer service and supply stores like Staples also believe they'll remain open, because they provide services and equipment that can help other necessary businesses remain open.

Even though the order also carves out an exception for food and agriculture, Tony Stewart, owner of Tony's Produce, was not sure his business qualified to remain open.  

"I'm a little concerned," he said. "I have an agricultural business and I have ten employees that I'm not sure yet that we're going to be considered essential people. It's the not knowing that's got my people freaked out, whether or not they have a job tomorrow."

Workers at Victory Lane Quick Oil Change said they'd been told by managers that they were considered essential workers, and the store would remain open. But they said business was extremely slow, even before the Governor's latest executive order was issued.  

Apparently alcohol and marijuana are also considered necessary to sustain life. The Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency says in-person transactions inside licensed provisioning centers and licensed marijuana retailers are prohibited, but the centers and retailers "may engage in sales through curbside service or delivery."

An employee of the Wine Castle in Ann Arbor said his store had just received a letter from the state saying liquor, beer and wine stores could also remain open.

There's also the possibility that some entities might shut down mistakenly.

The Wayne State University Physician Group has been providing drive-through testing for the coronavirus for symptomatic health care workers and first responders in Detroit and Dearborn. They said the testing program would be suspended at 6 p.m. Monday, March 23, in response to the governor’s order.

A state health official suggested the group's interpretation of the order was faulty. "Testing is absolutely appropriate and specifically excluded," she said after being emailed a copy of the Physician Group's press release.

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Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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