Like the rest of Michigan, Canton’s small business community was thrown a screwball in March of 2020. The onset of COVID-19 forced many brick-and-mortar restaurants to close for weeks, while restaurants had to find new ways to reach customers.
Thomas Paden is the president of the Canton Chamber of Commerce, which works with a variety of the township’s businesses. He says the pandemic changed the way the organization interacts with its members.
“Our mission,” says Paden, “is to bring people together to network and meet. Now we can’t do that as freely as we did before.”
As county-level grants and federal aid for small businesses began rolling out, Paden says the chamber’s role quickly shifted to become more informational than ever.
“We were distributing this information,” says Paden, “to our members, to businesses that were not even members of our organization.”
Paden says the economic impacts of COVID-19 did affect staffing at the Canton Chamber of Commerce. He says the group’s nonprofit status exempted them from receiving all of the relief that for-profits could access.
Closed for Nine Weeks
At the start of the pandemic, Jacob Matthew Jewelers owner Tammy Haggerty says she had to close her brick-and-mortar store for nine weeks.
“I would come in on my own,” says Haggerty, “even though we were still locked down, with customers texting me that might need something. I would come in, grab stuff, send pictures, (and) deliver to their house.”
“I would come in on my own, even though we were still locked down, with customers texting me that might need something. I would come in, grab stuff, send pictures, (and) deliver to their house.” —Tammy Haggerty, owner of Jacob Matthew Jewelers
Despite having to lay off staff, Haggerty says she was able to continue paying her employees health benefits until ultimately bringing them back to work. She says the jewelry store was able to close 2020 with the strongest holiday retail season in its history.
“Birthdays and anniversaries still happen,” says Haggerty. “What’s the next best thing if you can’t take an anniversary trip? People think of jewelry.”
With her store on solid footing, Haggerty says her business played a role in organizing a local campaign to feed Michigan’s frontline workers.
Carryout and Community Keep Restaurant Going
Rose’s Restaurant is one Canton eatery that took part in that campaign. Owner Richard Costantino says they adapted to the pandemic by setting up an outdoor patio and office cubicles to separate the venue’s indoor tables.
“Everybody’s 6 feet apart with the cubicles,” says Costantino. “Wayne County came in and said we did more here than most places did in Wayne County.”
Costantino says they also repurposed an enclosed patio space, previously used for small parties, into a drive-thru window.
“We were doing one window at a time,” says Costantino, “and then we said, ‘OK, let’s do two windows.’ So we became sort of like a McDonald’s without the clown.”
Costantino says carry-out service and community generosity has been enough to sustain his business during the pandemic. Like many in the food industry, he says finding staffing is the biggest challenge currently facing Rose’s Restaurant.
While finding employees has been a challenge for businesses, Paden of the Canton Chamber of Commerce says job opportunities are out there. There’s been a recent uptick in requests for ribbon-cutting ceremonies signifying the opening of new post-pandemic businesses.
“Whether that is an actual indicator of things to come, we have to just wait and see what happens,” Paden says. “I think it may be a little bit too early to tell right now, but I think that there is perhaps some some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Listen: How Canton’s small business community adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic.