The governor tweeted her stand with small businesses from her official account and was promptly met with backlash from social media users and business owners who still remember how the state’s local economy was fettered by Whitmer’s lockdowns during the COVID pandemic.
“Supporting Michigan’s small businesses means supporting the vitality of our local communities,” Whitmer said. “The data shows that small businesses are at the forefront of driving innovation, jobs, and economic growth in our state, and I’m committed to getting them the support they need.”
While few people would disagree with the governor on the importance of small businesses for a thriving economy, Michigan small business owners criticized how she portrayed herself as a warrior for local business.
Diane Schindlbeck and her husband Eric opened a restaurant in rural western Michigan six months before the onset of the COVID pandemic to fulfill their American dream. The couple’s steakhouse survived the first lockdown, and the Schindlbecks kept their staff by providing meals to first responders through the first 12 weeks of the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, the restaurant reopened, but a second shutdown from the Whitmer administration in November 2020 was too much, and the Schindlbecks closed their doors permanently.
“This governor put fear into our hearts and in our minds and in our businesses because no one knew what the rules were,” Schindlbeck told The Daily Wire.
On March 16, 2020, Whitmer ordered public spaces such as bars, theaters, bowling centers, and casinos to close, and only allowed restaurants to serve food via delivery and pick-up orders. For months after the onset of the pandemic, the Whitmer administration continued to order restaurants to limit the number of customers they could serve and required that businesses enact social distancing and mask requirements. Theaters and bowling centers had to shut their doors completely from mid-March 2020 through the end of that summer. Then, Whitmer allowed casinos in Detroit, the state’s most populous city, to reopen in late July 2020 while forcing small bars in northern Michigan to shutter indoor service.
The governor’s COVID restrictions affected the state’s small businesses for over a year after a second shutdown in November 2020. The restrictions on businesses finally ended in late June of 2021, nearly 16 months after the governor signed her first emergency order.
Schindlebeck and her husband bought property in February 2021 and recently opened Schindy’s, a new restaurant and general store they hope will give them another shot at their dream. However, an economy trying to come back after the lockdowns and reeling from a supply chain crisis has made life difficult for the small business owners. Schindlebeck criticized Whitmer’s tweet and questioned how the governor was backing up her words with action.
“The comment of ‘I’m committed to getting [small businesses] the support they need,’ where is that support?” Schindlebeck asked.
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Whitmer’s Republican opponent Tudor Dixon has regularly criticized the governor for her lockdown policies, arguing that the lockdowns harmed local businesses and negatively affected other areas of Michigan life.
“Gretchen Whitmer implemented the most draconian and extreme lockdowns in the country throughout the pandemic,” Dixon told The Daily Wire Thursday. “She destroyed our small business community, stole years of schooling from our kids, and forced hard working Michiganders to follow her intrusive orders that picked winners and losers.”
Dixon then revealed how she would have taken a different approach. “As governor, I would have instead partnered with our community leaders, neighboring states, and the people of Michigan to follow the science, share the facts, and enable individuals to make choices for themselves,” she commented. “There would have been no extreme lockdowns, no extended school closures, and no restrictions and mandates that were outright confusing and cruel.”
After Whitmer’s lockdowns, 36% of Michigan’s small businesses were forced to lay off staff, and over half of those businesses let go of all their employees, according to a 2021 study sponsored by Facebook. The same study found that two-thirds of small businesses in the state saw a 10% decrease in sales following the shutdown. More Facebook data indicated that Michigan led the U.S. in small business closings this past summer.
As the businesses that survived the pandemic and Whitmer’s lockdown looked to get back on their feet, the governor twice vetoed hundreds of millions in federal relief funds for small businesses. Whitmer then vetoed bipartisan legislation aiming to give tax relief to small businesses that had to purchase personal protective equipment, arguing that she supported the tax break, but the way the legislation was crafted would make it ineligible for federal relief under the American Rescue Plan.
Another small business owner, Karla Wagner, lives in Rockford, a small town just north of Grand Rapids, where she runs a restaurant called Belle’s Kitchen and Bostwick Lake Antiques. She told The Daily Wire in an interview that over the past two years, there have been many ways the state’s small businesses should have been helped, but weren’t.
“I think [Whitmer] has been given opportunities to help us, but she refused to do it,” Wagner said, explaining that the governor often claims to help small businesses by directing money to programs that don’t address the direct needs of small businesses. Wagner said her business “barely made it” out of the pandemic and Whitmer’s shutdown, but she still doesn’t believe the economy has made it back to normal, pointing to many businesses limiting hours and a shortage of labor seen across the state.
While Wagner’s business survived the long shutdown and COVID restrictions, the owner’s outlook on an economy overseen by the current governor was grim.
“We’re not going to survive another four years of Whitmer,” she said.