News Story

No COVID Patients In Delta County, Yet Gladstone Tavern Closed On Whitmer’s Order

‘I’m not sure what science class she took,’ says business owner

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 160th executive order forced bars and taverns to shut down indoor service if more than 70% of their gross income is derived from selling alcoholic beverages, thereby shuttering many rural small businesses while allowing larger establishments to remain open.

The disparity is particularly stark in small, rural communities in the Upper Peninsula, where populations are low and COVID-19 deaths are nearly non-existent.

“Currently there are zero COVID patients hospitalized in Delta County,” tavern owner Ann Sebeck said last week. “There have been 18 deaths in the entire Upper Peninsula.”

As of Aug. 3, there were two people in the entire U.P. hospitalized for COVID-19. The OSF St. Francis Hospital located in Delta County listed no COVID-19 patients as of Aug. 3, the latest date information is available from the state.

Sebeck, owner of The White Birch Tavern in Gladstone, was one of a number of local business owners forced to close their doors yet again under the latest order.

Gladstone, a community of 4,973 people, is in Delta County, which has had a total of 76 cases and three deaths from COVID-19, as of Aug. 9 according to the state of Michigan. The county’s population stands at 35,784.

The White Birch Tavern is a 28-stool business that gets more than 70% of its income from alcohol sales.

“We are very small,” Sebeck said. “We’re a little country bar and all we serve is pizza and burgers.”

While Sebeck was forced to shut down indoor service, neighboring taverns and bars that make more than 30% of their income from soda, food, games, apparel, a jukebox, or other sources are allowed to remain open at a reduced capacity under Whitmer’s order.

“We just don’t fall into that category,” she explained. “We do have a small outdoor area that would meet the [governor’s] requirements, but it is so small it wouldn’t even make enough to pay the employee’s wages.”

Sebeck said that while she is happy that other bars and restaurants in her community are able to remain open, she feels small establishments like hers are being penalized without cause.

“If my bar were open today, we would have a fourth of the people go through it versus the bars and restaurants that can still stay open,” she said. “It makes very little sense because taverns like ours are the ones that have the least people in them.”

“It almost feels like we’re being discriminated against because we didn’t have enough,” she added.

Sebeck’s mother owned and operated the bar for 43 years before Sebeck and her husband took over in 2019.

“At the end of the first two-month shutdown, revenue was down 30% from the year before,” she said.

Sebeck was able to retain her five employees due to government pandemic relief and unemployment benefits, but said the shutdown has taken a toll on her workers and the tavern’s local vendors.

“We purchase from small, local vendors who rely on our business to help keep them going,” she explained. “The destruction that’s happening to small businesses and the families that rely on those small businesses is devastating.”

The governor has not provided businesses with any anticipated dates for reopening.

“I feel it’s totally senseless. Our (coronavirus) numbers are so low,” Sebeck said.

She said the governor has failed to provide a factual basis to justify the latest shutdown.

“She keeps saying she’s following the science, but I’m not sure what science class she took,” Sebeck said.

The tavern owner said her primary concern is the damage the shutdown is doing to her local community.

“We’re ruining our economy and we’re ruining lives,” Sebeck said. “Many of them aren’t going to come back from this.”