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Locals and tourists head to downtown Traverse City on first day of partial reopening

Max Johnston
Interlochen Public Radio

Some businesses in northern Michigan reopened Friday, with restrictions, under an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

While many welcomed the news, some businesses are playing it safe.

Thursday Night

Late Thursday night, a group of around 30 people stood in line outside Brady’s Bar near downtown Traverse City. Trevor Richmond drove in from Kalkaska to get some drinks with friends.

“[I've] kind of been missing hanging out. I just wanna get out and about, I’m tired of hanging at my house,” he said.

Brady’s Bar is one of the only spots in Traverse City that reopened as soon as they could -- literally. The bar opened at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning. Just before midnight, the crowd even started a countdown


Credit Max Johnston / Interlochen Public Radio
Interlochen Public Radio
Brady's Bar was at capacity within seconds of reopening early Friday morning.

“Get in there and get yourself a drink,” Cook Nick Marco told visitors as they entered the bar. "Please cover your faces on the way in. You can take them off at the table."

Some visitors wore masks, others covered their mouth with their shirt. When they got in Brady's there were big blue X’s taped to the floor to help space everyone out. Bartenders and waiters wearing masks and gloves started taking orders and used hand sanitizer between every purchase.

When she found out she could reopen, Brady’s Bar Owner Nolen Sleder says she was nervous but excited.

“We’re the locals' bar. They miss us, we miss them. We want to see them," Sleder said. "We’re being very careful, but they’ve been waiting a long time and we’ve been waiting a long time.”

Friday Morning

People started flocking to downtown Traverse City the next morning. By 10 a.m. Friday sidewalks were nearly full of people strolling down Front Street and heading into stores and restaurants.

Mary Olmstead drove up to Traverse City from Custer near Ludington, which is still closed. She came to town for a doctor’s appointment, but stuck around to see what the reopening looks like.

Olmstead is concerned about her safety so she's wearing a mask and keeping her distance from others.

“I just would like a little normal back,” she said.

Credit Max Johnston / Interlochen Public Radio
Interlochen Public Radio

Some businesses aren't eager to reopen

Stores and restaurants across Traverse City had their doors open, and most had signs out front requiring customers to wear masks and distance themselves from one another.

Amanda Danielson is the co-owner of italian restaurant Trattoria Stella. She says before the Governor finished announcing the reopening, her phone started ringing for dinner reservations.

“Easily 75-80 percent of the calls that we got were [from] 810, 248, 313, 734, 312 [area codes.]” Danielson said.

Danielson told some of those out-of-towners to back off. She limited reservations to locals, or in some cases people she trusts to follow their rules. Now the restaurant is booked solid through Sunday, Danielson says.

Every customer that got a reservation also recieved detailed instructions on the protocol for Trattoria Stella’s reopening. Diners have to wear masks until they sit down, show up in 15 minute increments and acknowledge they’ll follow the rules.

Danielson said that scared some people off from booking reservations.

“Nevertheless, it’s necessary given the behavior we’re seeing all over town,” she said.

For the forseeable future, Danielson says Trattoria Stella can hold about 16 customers in the restaurant at a time, well below the normal capacity of 175. 

Other restaurants are staying closed. Meridith Falconer, co-owner of Alliance, says they’re sticking with takeout for now.

Falconer says her staff isn’t comfortable seating customers in their small dining room. And she says they want to wait and see how other businesses reopen. Falconer says that may help them avoid some pitfalls and lawsuits.

“God forbid something happened or somebody got sick, the fallout from that feels pretty heavy to think about,” she said.

Falconer says takeout is working for them, so they’re in no rush to fully reopen.

A new normal

Wendy Hirschenberger with the Grand Traverse County Health Department was surprised at the timing of the reopening. But she says the county has seen some good health signs recently. COVID cases have flattened, according to Hirschenberger, and at one point two weeks passed without a new confirmed case in the county.

As of Thursday, Grand Traverse County had 23 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Hirschenberger says they’re still telling anyone driving Up North to self-isolate, but admits they can’t make anyone do that. She adds that everyone will need to readjust permanently.

“I don’t think we have to have the mindset of going back to what we had previously, I think we need to realize that we are in the new normal,” she said.

Max came to IPR in 2017 as an environmental intern. In 2018, he returned to the station as a reporter and quickly took on leadership roles as Interim News Director and eventually Assignment Editor. Before joining IPR, Max worked as a news director and reporter at Michigan State University's student radio station WDBM. In 2018, he reported on a Title IX dispute with MSU in his story "Prompt, Thorough and Impartial." His work has also been heard on Michigan Radio, WDBM and WKAR in East Lansing and NPR.