Michigan Retailers Association has been lobbying the Governor’s office for many weeks to allow Michigan stores to conduct business in a safe and responsible manner. We’re deeply concerned about permanent closures of stores that simply cannot make it without two months’ worth of revenue. Below is a letter sent to Gov. Whitmer on May 13 by MRA President and CEO Bill Hallan, advocating for the reopening of retail before Memorial Day weekend:
Dear Governor Whitmer,
It’s time to open the door to all retail storefronts. Retailers have proven they can operate safely, keeping both their employees and customers safe. Retail drives Michigan’s economy and we need to get retailers back to work before it’s too late. The industry has reached a critical breaking point. In our April 21 letter, we highlighted the concern that many retailers would not be able to survive a shutdown past May 1. We are well past that date, and each day their doors remain closed, the likelihood of permanent damage increases. In fact, many retailers have already closed the doors on a business they worked so hard to create.
Curbside pickup and delivery are only temporary solutions for the industry. Simply put, Michigan’s brick and mortar retailers need customers in their stores to survive. The current policy still favors online retailers that have no presence in our state. Our members heavily rely on sales from Easter, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day to sustain their spring business. With many unable to obtain PPP loans, bills are piling up and there is no income to continue operations.
We know your most important concern is safety, which is why our April 21 letter outlined the precautions retailers are ready to take to get back to work. In addition to the steps set forth in that letter, all consumer traffic is currently occurring at essential businesses, with customers often waiting in a queue to enter. Opening all retail will alleviate the congestion at those essential retailers, allowing a more natural form of consumer social distancing.
Studies on the indoor transmission of COVID-19 have shown that just two percent of SARS outbreaks were linked to shopping while nearly 80 percent occurred in close living quarters. Infections most often occur at home, in workplaces, on public transport, at social gatherings, and in restaurants. In contrast, outbreaks spread from shopping appear to be responsible for a small percentage of traced infections.
Several states similarly situated to Michigan have either already reopened retail or are on the verge of doing so. Michigan’s retail industry should be no different. Indiana and Wisconsin reopened on May 11 and Ohio reopened on May 12. Minnesota is set to reopen on May 18 and Kentucky is reopening on May 20. Opening all retail doors, rather than picking and choosing, will allow customers to have more shopping options to pick up what they want and need. Furthermore, retail has already developed and tested best practices to keep shoppers safe. Those best practices, many of which you’ve included in Executive Orders, have prevented outbreaks and kept retail workers and customers healthy. They can be implemented across the full spectrum of retail outlets, just as our neighboring states have done.
It will take time for consumers to regain confidence and financial stability to start spending again, so the sooner we reopen the doors and get people back to work, the sooner we will see a positive impact in revenue estimates. With our economic engine shut off, we will continue to lose critical sales tax and income tax dollars that fund our schools and provide state and local services to taxpayers.
In addition to reopening the doors of the retail industry, we also ask you to help stimulate retail activity and consumer confidence through incentives like a sales tax holiday. Several states including Florida, Massachusetts, and Washington are considering special COVID-19 related sales tax holidays to incentivize shoppers and restart economic demand for products. These special sales tax holidays are in addition to the fifteen states with regular sales tax holidays on the books, including our neighboring state of Ohio.
Retail is safe. Retail is ready. Our neighboring states have reopened or set dates to reopen retail and so should Michigan. We urge you to reopen all retail doors before Memorial Day weekend.
William J. Hallan
President and CEO
Michigan Retailers Association