For Some Small Business Owners, Shut Down May Mean Forever
‘It's just up in the air,’ says owner of gardening store
Shelly Gurney’s garden supply store in Menominee has one full-time and two part-time employees.
With the announcement that the Michigan Legislature has approved extending the state of emergency through April 30, Gurney isn’t sure how much longer her Upper Peninsula business can hang on.
“After that [date], it’s just up in the air,” she said.
Gurney owns Grow Masters, which sells gardening and hydroponic supplies.
On April 2, State Police troopers delivered a cease-and-desist letter to her business. The letter was sent by the state's Attorney General office and charged that the store had violated the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order.
The letter said the order “prohibits any person or entity from operating a business or conducting operations that require workers to leave their homes or places of residence, except to the extent those workers are necessary to sustain or protect life or to conduct basic minimum operations.”
The letter also stated that the order does not apply to “Employees of companies engaged in the production of chemicals, medicines, vaccines, and other substances used by the food and agriculture industry, including pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, minerals, enrichments, and other agricultural production aids.”
Gurney said she worked with the Menominee Prosecutor and was allowed to sell just gardening products at her store on a curbside-pickup basis.
She also says she doesn’t want people to think she was ignoring the stay-at-home order.
Gurney said before the Attorney General sent her the letter, she called the state of Michigan and talked to someone who assured her she was covered under the agriculture aspect of the executive order. She can’t recall who she talked to or what bureau she reached.
On March 22, two days before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered all non-essential businesses to close, Gurney was already limiting her sales to doing curb-side pickup only. Her employees covered their faces with bandanas, she said, and only employees were allowed in her store, which also serves as a smoke shop.
Gurney said she will abide by the order and close if that is what it requires.
“I want this whole community to be safe,” she said. “I’m just trying to help keep my employees employed.”
Gurney said she’s undecided at this point whether she will seek the business loans offered under the federal COVID-19 coronavirus relief package. She called the process “very confusing and very hard to understand.”