News Story

Lockdown Threatens His Labor Of 12 Years, Their Livelihoods, Her Education

Grand Rapids coffee roaster not optimistic if economy still closed after May 1

The coffee roasting business Kurt Stauffer founded 12 years ago began as a one-man operation in the back of a Grand Rapids gallery. When the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and state lockdowns hit Michigan in March, Stauffer’s Rowster Coffee was operating its own roastery and two coffee shops, with 15 full-time employees.

Stauffer had to close both of his Grand Rapids retail locations following the March 16 state executive order shutting down restaurants and most other businesses. He said it was with great difficulty he has managed to keep the roastery going for online sales and wholesale clients.

Even with that, though, like millions of others, his small business has taken a severe economic hit during this crisis.

“We went from roasting 500 pounds on a big day to 50 on a big day,” Stauffer said. “We went from 15 full-time employees to one, with a few part-time people left.”

The business owner said his company's income has dropped more than 80% since the shutdown.

Retail coffee shops remain closed at least through April 30 under a state lockdown order, and possibly much longer.

Stauffer said he gave all his employees a severance check when they had to stop working, but worries that he'll lose the same trained team he’s assembled if things don’t open back up soon.

Worse, if the state lockdown extends beyond May 1, Stauffer said, he will have to consider closing the two retail locations for good and refocus the business solely on wholesale and online retail sales.

Stauffer said he has a side job selling books and other media online, but it’s not enough to pay the bills. He’s now worried about his daughter, who had been planning to attend Michigan Technological University as a freshman this fall. Although she qualified for a scholarship that will cover some of the cost, the father worries about the thousands of dollars more they still must pay.

Like millions of others of small business owners and their employees, this Grand Rapids entrepreneur’s livelihood and future are now frozen in uncertainty.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.