News Story

Owner Of Jackson’s Irish Pub Struggling, Says ‘We’ve Been Silenced’

‘No customers, no sales, no revenue; I’ve never seen anything like this’

It’s been almost a month since Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered a statewide closure of all bars and restaurants in an effort to stop the COVID-19 coronavirus. Since then, thousands of Michigan restaurant owners have been confronted with a dilemma: how to preserve their livelihoods without an income and no end in sight.

Rick Wilson is one such example. Wilson and his wife have owned and operated Shamrock Bar in Jackson since May 2011, but the bar has been an icon of the town since it opened in 1941.

“It’s really the only Irish pub in Jackson,” Wilson told Michigan Capitol Confidential. “A lot of people call it their neighborhood bar. They grew up there and they remember coming in with their parents as kids. There’s a lot of history to it.”

But on March 16, Shamrock Bar was forced to close its doors on the day before St. Patrick’s Day, its biggest day of the year.

“We’ve been silenced,” Wilson said. “No customers, no sales, no revenue. I’ve never seen anything like this. Not even close to this.”

Wilson estimates that Shamrock can weather the closures caused by the pandemic for four months before he’d have to start dipping into the bar’s earnings and his personal savings. But, he said, many businesses aren’t so lucky.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the community and our business has grown a lot in the past few years,” he said, “but most businesses couldn’t last that long. I’ve heard of a couple in the area that are really struggling.”

His business has a host of fixed costs that don’t go away just because the bar is closed, Wilson noted. For Shamrock, those costs include the establishment’s seven employees, four of whom depend on their jobs at the bar for their living. Wilson said he hopes to keep them on his payroll by applying for the Paycheck Protection Plan, a loan program for small businesses that was included in the CARES act Congress passed last month.

“[The plan] allows you to bring your employees back to the workplace,” Wilson said. “I would open the bar just for takeout, but it would let me bring my employees back and off unemployment. I really believe we’d get a lot of support from the community.”

Wilson hopes that the governor will reopen restaurants in the coming months, even with strict social distancing guidelines. He predicts that his bar’s legal capacity of 50 to 60 people might be reduced to 20 or 30, for instance. In the meantime, he said he hopes to see less partisanship as Michigan tries to combat the crisis.

“It seems like there’s always a fight. This is not the time to have a battle and make things political,” Wilson said.