NEW BUFFALO — The COVID-19 pandemic is spreading rapidly, and a normally vibrant New Buffalo is bracing for what could be a very quiet spring season.

As the situation evolves, many small business owners in town are unsure of what steps to take to protect employees, mitigate risk, and take care of employees. Coffee shops, stores and boutiques all along Whittaker say business is down by as much as 40 percent.

“I’m planning on staying open and will continue to take deliveries in hopes this is over by the busy season, says Elise Mauro, owner of the Indian Summer Boutique. “If I have to run the shop alone, I can. I’m worried.”

For restaurant owners, the decision to close or stay open is no longer theirs. As of 3 p.m. Monday, March 16, all bars and restaurants in the state of Michigan were ordered closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, restaurants were still open to carry-out services and deliveries. Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s decision came after the number of cases in the state jumped from two on March 10 to 53 on March 15. (as of April 1 the number of confirmed cases in the state stood at 7,615 with 259 deaths according to the Coronavirus Dashboard website).

A 55-year-old LaPorte, Ind., man was hospitalized in critical condition with a positive coronavirus test result from a state lab as of March 14.

At the Stray Dog Bar & Grill, owners Leslie and Marc Danesi addressed workers and promised to support and pay employees for the following two weeks. The restaurant hopes to reopen on Monday, March 30th,, although no one is quite sure how long the disruption will last based on outbreaks in South Korea and Italy.

Meanwhile, DJ Vermilyer who serves as the General Manager of Villa Nova Pizzeria says their restaurant is utilizing servers and bartenders to become delivery drivers.

“We are going to extend how many miles we will deliver and will have a no contact delivery system,” says Vermilyer. “We can take a credit card over the phone, ring the doorbell, and leave the food at a customer’s doorstep.”  Customers can still pick up food at the restaurant by calling ahead.

The marquee in front of Dooley’s Lake House Pub stated on March 17 “We are Open!” with pick-ups and deliveries still in play.

Area eateries offering carry-out and/or delivery service as of March 17 also included Song Asian Cuisine, Cafe Gulistan, The Grove, Rio’s, Red Arrow Road House, Patellie’s Pizza, Skip’s, Oaks Eatery, Roma Pizza in Bridgman, Roma Pizza of New Buffalo, Viola’s, Casey’s, Milda’s,  and Nelson’s Saloon (see article on Many Helping to Feed the Community elsewhere on this website, check on the Internet or call ahead for restaurants not mentioned here).

Also staying open most grocery and convenience stores and drug stores including Barney’s Supermarket in New Buffalo, the Harding’s stores in Bridgman and Three Oaks, and Hometown Pharmacy in New Buffalo.

While the national buying craze of water, toilet paper and canned goods has also hit this grocery store, Barney’s owner Gil Pontius says there is no reason to panic.

“The doors will be open during this crisis. We are here to serve the community.”

New Buffalo City Manager David Richards says all public meetings are canceled for the next two weeks. New Buffalo will watch for the recommendations by the CDC and determine next steps. He adds, “This pandemic is tragic in so many ways and we know a lot of small businesses in New Buffalo are going to suffer. It’s more important now to not panic and come together as a community.”

Notices of additional closings and cancellations spring up every day.

On March 16, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi released the following: In consideration of recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and requests from both federal and state governments to help prevent the spread and minimize the potential impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), the Pokagon Gaming Authority has decided to close all of its Four Winds Casino locations in Michigan and Indiana beginning at 3 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday, March 17. The time frame of the closure is until Monday, March 30, pending reevaluation at the end of the closure period. Employees will continue to be compensated during the closure.

For more closings and cancellations, see articles in the News and Community Notes sections of this website.

— Mia Toschi is a four-time Emmy winning television news reporter from New York City who has covered the 911 attacks, the AIDS Crisis in South Africa, Hurricanes Irene, Sandy and Katrina, and the tsunami in South East Asia.

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