by Scott McClallen
Twenty months after the COVID-19 pandemic struck Michigan, downtown Lansing hasn’t recovered fully. Half of the state’s roughly 48,000 employees are still working remotely.
The disappearance of daily consumption habits of more than 22,000 state workers have hurt local businesses, whether that’s grabbing a bagel from The New Daily Bagel, rolls from AnQi Sushi Express or a shake from Soul Nutrition. Some businesses have adjusted accordingly, cutting hours, closing locations, and reducing menus.
The Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget (DTMB) Spokesman Caleb Buhs said about half of state workers are working remotely on a daily basis.
“This includes employees who worked remotely before the pandemic, including police and conservation officers, field auditors, etc. At this time, while still in the midst of a public health emergency, decisions are being made to protect the health and safety of our staff and the public,” Buhs wrote in an email. “Each work area will need to determine what the most efficient and effective plan for their unique services and operations for the post-pandemic future. As each state department makes those determinations, we will work to match their facility needs and adjust their overall footprint, if needed.”
Buhs said they have cancelled 23 leased spaces and consolidated facilities since March 2020.
It’s been a hard two years for restaurants. Nearly a year ago today, Whitmer shuttered indoor dining service for 75 days, and then later required restaurants enforce mask mandates, collect diner contact tracing, and limit diners to groups of six. Some government buildings still are posted with notices dated March 19, 2020, about when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shuttered most of the economy via more than 100 executive orders to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The Biggby’s coffee near the Capitol is closed on weekends and shuts down after 4 p.m. from Tuesday through Thursday. Others fixtures like Strange Matter might never come back, while Thai Village has closed dine-in service altogether. Grand Traverse Pie Company closed its downtown location for the rest of 2020 on Nov. 17. A sign on the door reads they hope to return in 2021, which hasn’t happened with only six weeks remaining in the calendar year.
Weston Kewpee’s opened in 1923. Autumn Weston, a 4th-generation owner, told The Center Square they rely on lunch traffic, which has drastically dropped off in the past two years.
“We’ve been operating at about 50% for going on two years because the walking traffic – the city and state employees – are 90% of our business,” Weston said. “So it’s definitely made an impact on our day-to-day operations. Very much so.”
Weston encouraged Lansing residents to support local businesses.
“When you go to a mom and pop shop, you’re putting money back into your community,” Weston said, adding that local businesses donate to fund softball and baseball teams.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.