Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Local businesses to reopen with caution


[email protected]

Ironwood - Local business owners say it's been a struggle under the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, but have mixed feelings about reopening under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's recent order allowing some Upper Peninsula businesses to reopen with limitations today.

Many business owners said they plan a cautious return or plan to wait out the rest of the COVID-19 shutdown. For some it's the type of business and the ability to operate with restrictions, while for others it's about building and room sizes with the emphasis on reducing the chance of spreading coronavirus to zero until the pandemic is over.

Abelman Clothing in Bessemer planned to open this morning. They are returning to their regular hours six days a week and will be closed Sunday.

"We're excited about getting to open again," said Bob Abelman, owner of the family store that has been in operation since 1887. "We have missed our customers."

The staff is prepared to operate under the new rules, he said. There is a sanitizing protocol in place and customers are asked to wear face coverings and follow the distancing directions.

"We put arrows on the floor for people to follow," Abelman said. "We rearranged some of our racks for spacing and in the shoe department. There's only so much we can do and we are trying to do the best we can."

Abelman's is an all-year business and there was a significant loss in sales, he said. This would include people who like to replace worn-out winter items when prices are lower at the end of the season, in addition to people who would already be out looking for spring merchandise, he said.

"There is never a good time to be closed, but I guess if you have to be closed this was the best time that it was," Abelman said.

Mary Hitt, owner of Hitt's Fine Furniture in Ironwood, said she is opening Friday and feels that the way business is conducted in a furniture store will work well with the new normal rules of operation.

She has been taking calls over the shutdown and understands that people prefer shopping for furniture directly as opposed to online where they really can't inspect quality.

"It's been really different the last couple months, quiet," Hitt said. "We are trying to be mindful and respectful with what the community is comfortable with and have protocols in place to keep customers and staff comfortable."

The number of customers in a furniture store at any given time tends to be low and they are usually in different sections of the store, depending on the items they are seeking for a bedroom, living room or to see the unfinished furniture in the basement.

That's the difference from the department stores where a lot of people are there all day, she said.

"The nice thing about our situation is that we don't get everyone in all at once," Hitt said. "They come in stages and we will be able to keep our customers separated in the different areas of the store."

Dan Koeppel, owner of Dan's Antiques of Ironwood, said he is reopening but will only allow adult customers into the store for now.

With all the cleaning and sanitation that needs to be done in addition to social distancing he said children just can't comprehend the need to go along with social distancing and resist handling the items while browsing with parents.

"This is a different situation now," Koeppel said. "They (kids) don't know better to stay 6 feet away and stuff like that."

Koeppel said he plans to be open for business on Friday. He's been in operation for 20 years including the past seven years at his current downtown location."We had a good January and February and so it hurt to close," Koeppel said. "We never know for sure when business will be good."

As a downtown store he said the foot traffic from visitors and locals attending big festivals and events brings in a lot of unanticipated business. The lack of those events this summer puts things in doubt, he said.

"Generally speaking, summers are good, but we're all in limbo right now with everything being canceled," Koeppel said. "I really can't say." Restaurant owners are expressing different concerns about working under the new normal.

Anny Lin, owner of Golden Dragon Chinese Restaurant in Ironwood, had voluntarily transitioned to takeout service only for about a week before shutting down completely with the announcement of the statewide order in March. She reopened the takeout service again a week ago.

"We were closed for six weeks and the first day back was crazy," Lin said.

Customers can order online, over the phone or walk-in order, she said. There is no estimated date to return to full dining service. "Next week it may all change again," Lin said.

Becky Randall, manager of Brewster's Northwoods Bar in Ironwood, said they plan to have indoor dining but are not sure when that will be. There are a lot of challenges with moving furniture, training staff, and waiting for services.

"We are figuring it all out right now," Randall said. "There are a lot of things that need to be moved and there are sanitary precautions and training of staff."

The announcement has a lot of businesses scrambling to open, she said. There are staff to hire back or replace, and service vendors are trying to keep up with a suddenly demanding schedule.

"We are hoping that things bounce back quickly," Randall said. Brewster's has had a lot of success with its free delivery service during the shutdown, she said.

The restaurant plans to continue that service to make up for any loss that might occur with the limitations on in-restaurant dining and for people who are not comfortable going out yet.

"We are in the process of figuring out the best way to set up tables to maximize the space and allow people who want to come in to be able to come in," Randall said.

Mike's Restaurant in Ironwood will not be returning to indoor dining any time soon, according to Debra Federico, co-owner with her husband, Jeffrey Federico. The narrow dining room would require removing the tables and leaving just three booths and the close stools at the counter would limit customers to three at a time.

It would be difficult to operate safely for customers and staff, she said. It is also not very cost-effective to maintain a staff of 14 for limited indoor service.

"We do it by the book," Federico said. "I would have to train my staff all over again because they were laid off as soon as this happened."

The takeout service has worked well since the shutdown started and will continue, she said.

A walk-up window on the front of the restaurant was set up so that customers do not need to enter the restaurant.

"Everybody here in town has really supported us and I can't thank them enough," she said.

With a staff of two, the takeout service runs five days a week. The full menu is available except for a limited version of Friday fish fry. The duration of the takeout-only service is indefinite. Federico said. It's a matter of health risk.

"When they get a vaccination or something for the virus and we know that if anyone contracts it that they will not die, then I would feel comfortable enough to open to the public," Federico said.

"I think everybody's life and health is much more important than coming in and being able to sit down and have a burger when they can have the same awesome product and take it home."

None of the hair salons and barber shops in the area contacted were answering their phone yet as of Wednesday.

The voicemail message for About the Hair in Ironwood said they would be opening June 1.

Reflections Hair Salon in Ironwood said they would start scheduling appointments on June 2.