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Business owners offer thoughts on reopening

Martha Piwarski, Silver Moon (left) and Jen Sarder, Wink’s Woods (right)

IRON RIVER / CRYSTAL FALLS — At first glance, one might think that small business owners and managers would be hopping up and down at the chance to reopen their stores after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order allowed for reopening of retail businesses in the U.P. and the northern Lower Peninsula.
    And for Silver Moon manager Martha Piwarski and Wink’s Woods manager Jen Sarder, they certainly are excited. But that excitement comes with a healthy dose of trepidation.
    “It’s such a double-edged sword,” Piwarski said May 20, two days before Silver Moon opened its doors. “I told my husband (Steve), ‘What if no customers come in?’ And then I said, ‘What if customers come in?’”
    Sarder felt much the same way, one day before Wink’s Woods opened on May 22.
    “I don’t want to say it’s scary, but it’s the unknown. I mean, of course we’re a business and we want to be busy and obviously we want to be here for the community. But what’s going to happen tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. when we open the doors, you know?”
    Both store managers were crystal clear – the last eight weeks since Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order began on March 23 have been extraordinarily difficult for their businesses.
    “I was down 97.8 percent in April,” Piwarski said. “We were heading into a really good year, but I looked at it the other day and my business for the year is down 40 percent and that is huge.”
    “March and April are our busy times (in terms of inventory),” Sarder added. “I mean, that’s when we start to pick up, so that’s when we get in all our spring inventory, so it really hit us hard because everything had to stop basically.”
    At the same time, neither manager is sure about what will take place when their businesses did open. Of course, no one is completely sure about anything these days.
    “Well, of course, I think everyone has reservations about it,” Sarder said. “I mean, are we opening too early? We don’t know.”
    Since Whitmer’s call to reopen on May 18, businesses have been in quick transition mode. The order seemed to come out of nowhere and it left just four days between executive order and the date retail businesses in those two regions could open.
    The preparations included much thought on how to provide a safe space for both employees and customers. Hand sanitizer will be readily available at both businesses, both will wipe down door handles, will require social distancing and neither will have their public restrooms open.
    Piwarski said Silver Moon will use Clorox wipes to handle credit cards, while Wink’s Woods will have a plastic shield set up between the cash register and the paying customer
    There will be plenty of cleaning and disinfecting at both stores.
    “Just be patient,” Piwarski recommended to potential shoppers. “Customers are skittish, I’m skittish, but we’re doing our best and we’ll get through it.”
    Despite all the uncertainty, Piwarski offered one clear message to residents.
    “I really hope that the locals make a point of shopping more locally. Just come in and take a look. A $10 purchase in here is huge.”
    To alleviate some possible customer concerns, Piwarksi said she would open early or stay late if a customer is wary of shopping around other customers.
    Sarder gave the final word.
    “We want the customers to come back,” Sarder said. “I will be upbeat and friendly, and we want to treat them with the utmost respect and we’re happy that they’re here. But it is strange. I don’t even know what to think. We’ve been home so long that it was even weird coming back in here.”
    “We just want everyone to feel safe.”
    Wink’s Woods is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. The store is located at 1225 West U.S. 2 in Crystal Falls. Call 875-3750.
    Silver Moon is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday; closed Sunday. The store is located at 4148 US Hwy. 2 in Iron River. Call 265-6666.