• Michigan is home to more than 16,500 restaurants and 15,000 retail shops, employing 1.25 million Michiganders. Although a disruption or closure of any small business has significant challenges, neighborhood and small downtown businesses are often devastated.
  • Recognizing the significant contributions neighborhood and downtown businesses provide to their communities through their products and services and by employing their neighbors, Michigan House Democrats created the Downtown Business Coalition, a virtual listening tour, to learn firsthand the unique challenges faced by neighborhood and downtown business owners during the COVID-19 pandemic.During the seven virtual listening tour events across the state, 175 neighborhood and small downtown business owners and 19 Chambers of Commerce voiced their concerns regarding the safety of employees and customers, the financial challenges to pay their overhead costs, and retaining employees and customers.

LANSING, Mich., June 9, 2020 — Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) created the Downtown Business Coalition (DBC), which recently hosted a virtual listening tour that enabled Michigan House Democrats to learn firsthand the unique challenges neighborhood and downtown business owners faced due to the COVID-19 business disruption.

The DBC is comprised of 17 state legislators, many of whom represent vibrant downtown areas. The listening tour allowed them to engage with nearly 200 neighborhood and downtown business owners, 19 Chambers of Commerce, Downtown Development Authorities and local shopping organizations across Michigan to identify legislation that must be enacted to ensure these businesses have the resources needed to continue their operations.

“The Downtown Business Coalition was formed out of the pride I have for my district,” said Koleszar. “The downtown districts of Northville and Plymouth are two prime examples of how our smallest businesses define our communities.  It is also important these incredible businesses have the resources to navigate the COVID-19 or future emergency business disruptions, and continue to thrive in communities across our state.”

“The survival of these downtown businesses is vital to not only the health of our economy but the preservation of who we are,” said state Rep Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township). “As a business owner, I knew it was important to ask and listen to our community small businesses in order to ensure that we could continue to grow and employ hardworking people in our community. This was the intent of this listening tour – to have an honest and open discussion with small business owners about the challenges they’re facing and ask them what they need to succeed.”

More than 16,500 restaurants and 15,000 retail shops fuel Michigan’s economy, employing 1.25 million Michiganders. Many of the businesses the DBC met with are family-owned, have the owner’s personal assets tied up in the business as collateral, depend on seasonal business, and rent business and retail space. Although the definition of “small business” includes any business with fewer than 250 employees, many neighborhood and downtown businesses employ fewer than 50. Thus, presenting a unique set of challenges than other small businesses face.

“We must continue to work to combat the spread of this deadly virus, while also understanding the need to give these small businesses the means to weather this crisis financially and the opportunity to get back on their feet when things return to normal,” said state Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit), who hosted a listening event for small business owners. “It’s well known that my community has been deeply impacted by COVID-19. I have lost neighbors and friends to this deadly virus, and I myself am a survivor. People in my community understand just how serious this crisis is and how we must come together to find real solutions, both in terms of our health and economy.”

For the very small businesses that took part in the seven virtual events of the listening tour, much of their overhead cost goes toward rent and utility bills, which is not included in the Paycheck Protection Program. Business owners conveyed the need for expanded financial assistance to cover these costs. Many also expressed concern for the safety of their employees and the need for access to affordable PPE, as well as the desire for state assistance educating employees on safety guidelines and administering safety rules.

“The listening tour was a welcome resource during this time of uncertainty, as it provided a platform for local businesses to voice our concerns and share our perspective on this incredibly trying situation,” said Kristin Arneson, owner of Stemville in Northville. “It was refreshing to see our state representatives take the time to engage in this dialogue and acknowledge the impact that this health crisis is having on small businesses, which make up the fabric of our communities.”

In addition to Koleszar, Witwer and Carter, the Downtown Business Coalition also include Reps. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette), Cara Clemente (D-Lincoln Park), Jim Ellison (D-Royal Oak), Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn), Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores), Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids), Padma Kuppa (D-Troy), Sheryl Kennedy (D-Davison), Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham), Cynthia Neeley (D-Flint), Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor), Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon) and Robert Wittenberg (D-Huntington Woods).

# # #