CEO Bill Hallan: Retail has proven it’s safe during COVID

By BILL HALLAN, MRA President and CEO

First things first, this is not a “mission accomplished” column. I’ve seen far too many videos of track athletes celebrating before the finish line only to be caught from behind. COVID-19 remains a part of our world and is likely here to stay until we’ve developed a vaccine, achieved herd immunity or identified effective treatment. Cases are still increasing, and we still need to be smart by wearing masks and taking the virus seriously. But there are silver linings.

Before we get to those silver linings, a quick word on masks. I’ve already written about masks and the media has extensively covered the position of the Association so there is no need to beat the horse. We remain steadfast in our position to strongly encourage all customers to wear masks and yet we are still concerned about the safety of retail employees, who now must enforce the Governor’s mask order by confronting shoppers. Retailers have been put into a position of enforcement, which we do not feel is appropriate for the industry.

While we are not out of the woods yet, the industry has proven that it can operate safely and remain open even in the midst of a pandemic. Grocery, hardware and other essential retailers never closed and quickly developed new protocols, safety measures and social distancing guidelines to keep their customers safe. Main street retail has now been open for about two months and has achieved the same success. To date, no major COVID-19 outbreaks have been linked to retail. The job you have all done is commendable.

To that point, it’s important we protect retailers and businesses who are following safeguards for employees and customers from pandemic-related frivolous lawsuits. MRA is calling on the Michigan Legislature and Congress to pass legislation ensuring businesses won’t need to worry about legal threats unless they make an egregious or intentional mistake.

Further, customers have shown that they want to shop and support their local retailers. Our merchant processing volume was higher in June 2020 than in June 2019. While shopping can be a social activity, both customers and retailers have shown that it can still occur through safe social distancing measures and that any future shutdown would be a completely unnecessary response. We continue to share your successes with the administration on a regular basis.

Although the mission to stop the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet accomplished, retailers have accomplished the task of operating safe businesses. But let’s not give the administration any reason to again close our great industry. We still need to wear masks. Let’s just do it so we can get over this pandemic as fast as possible. If you have any questions at all about how to comply with state and federal regulations, you’ll find a handy guide starting on Page 13 of this magazine that lays it all out for you.

We also wanted to give you a heads up that you likely won’t be seeing our Buy Nearby Guy mascot at events, parades and celebrations this year. In 2019, he traveled over 13,000 miles and visited 87 communities in Michigan encouraging Michiganders to shop local. Such an endeavor requires a team of employees and interns who all take turns wearing the costume. However, with COVID-19, sharing a mascot costume isn’t smart. The Detroit Parade Company professionally cleans the costume at the end of each year but not between each mascot appearance. As a result, our Buy Nearby campaign will pivot and incorporate new ways to celebrate. For example, many Buy Nearby supporters will soon get our Buy Nearby-branded 16-oz hand sanitizer to sit by your checkouts for customers to use.

The challenges of the pandemic have been an opportunity for us to connect with our members in new ways, and we look forward to serving you everyday.