Northern Michigan businesses call for higher capacity limits to stay open through the new year

NORTHERN MI – The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance sent a letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer advocating for higher capacity limits for northern Michigan bars, restaurants, and meetings and banquet centers. The organization represents 16 chambers and economic development organizations and over 7,000 member businesses from all across northern Michigan. 

This request comes as businesses pivot from summer to winter service and prepare for the colder months. “The colder weather is already here and outdoor seating is not an option for businesses, like some of our bars, who are unable to offer indoor service due to COVID restrictions,” said Amy Clickner, vice-chairperson of the Alliance and CEO of the Lake Superior Community Partnership. “Higher indoor capacity is a necessity to keep these businesses open and protect jobs.”

Regions 6 & 8 were able to reopen first during the initial phases of reopening. Bars that earn more than 70% of their gross receipts from sales of alcoholic beverages cannot currently offer indoor service. In an Alliance survey of mostly bars and restaurants, over 70% of the business respondents feel comfortable operating at a capacity of 75% or higher, considering staff availability and required safety procedures.

“Working with our public health partners to increase capacity limits is our number one priority right now,” said Stacie Bytwork, the chairperson of the Alliance and president of the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce. “If we want to be able to visit our favorite bar and restaurant establishments in the spring, we need them to be able to generate revenue during the winter season.”

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance’s letter to the Governor requested an Executive Order be issued that includes:

  • Expanded indoor capacity of 75% in regions 6 & 8 at bars, restaurants, and meetings and banquet centers if the data reported by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services falls below a three-percent positive test rate over an extended period
  • The treatment of meetings and banquets centers in regions 6 & 8 the same as bars and restaurants
  • The ability for bars and restaurants to retain the expanded capacity they gained via patios and other outdoor solutions this summer by allowing them to safely winterize those spaces while extending their temporary alcohol service permits

“Our chambers and economic development organizations have supported our businesses in reopening safely,” said Kirstie Sieloff, Director of Government Relations for the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance and Traverse Connect. “We continue to share the message of ‘Stay Safe to Stay Open’ and wearing a mask to keep our businesses open and our friends and neighbors employed.” In its letter to the Governor, the Alliance affirmed that after the summer visitors have gone home, northern Michigan remains at a relatively controlled risk level.

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance continues to support chambers, economic development organizations, and their member businesses by providing timely information and advocating for rural business needs at the state and federal levels. The Alliance is engaged in delivering industry-specific information, access to funding opportunities, and ensuring the northern Michigan voice is represented in reopening discussions.

About the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance:

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance is a coalition of chambers and economic development organizations including the Alpena Area Chamber, Benzie County Chamber of Commerce, Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce, Charlevoix Area Chamber of Commerce, Gaylord Area Chamber of Commerce, Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce, Traverse Connect, Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce, Lake Superior Community Partnership, Elk Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Harbor Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, Boyne Area Chamber, East Jordan Area Chamber of Commerce, Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce, Sault Area Chamber of Commerce, & Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. The Alliance exists to advocate for rural northern Michigan and move forward rural-centric business policy.


New Limits on Gatherings and the Closing of Certain Bars & Remote Work Clarification

On July 29, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Orders 2020-160 and 2020-161, amending Michigan’s Safe Start Order and issuing revised workplace safeguards. Under the Safe Start Order, starting July 31, 2020, statewide indoor gatherings will be limited to 10 people and bars will be closed for indoor service across the state, including in Regions 6 and 8. On July 31, Governor Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-162, amending order 2020-160, and clarifies that businesses in Regions 6 and 8 remain subject to the prior standard on remote work (more below).

Clarification on Remote Work

Amendment to Executive Order 2020-160 (emphasis added): “The restriction described in section 1 of Executive Order 2020-160 does not apply in Regions 6 and 8. Instead, in Regions 6 and 8, any work that is capable of being performed remotely (i.e., without the worker leaving his or her home or place of residence) should be performed remotely.”

This means that the standard for remote work, “should be performed remotely,” has not changed in regions 6 & 8.

What are indoor gatherings?

Per order 2020-160 section 7(a) (emphasis added): “If it is indoors, the gathering or event does not exceed 10 people […]”

What is not an indoor gathering?

Section 7(b): “Subsection (a) does not apply to the incidental gathering of persons in a shared space, including an airport, bus station, factory floor, restaurant, shopping mall, public pool, or workplace.”

How do I determine if my bar must shut down indoor bar operations?

Order 2020-160 affects (emphasis added):

“5. Bars. Food service establishments, as defined in section 1107(t) of the Michigan Food Law, 2000 PA 92, as amended, MCL 289.1107(t), that hold on-premises retailer licenses to sell alcoholic beverages must close for indoor service if they earn more than 70% of their gross receipts from sales of alcoholic beverages.

(a) Food service establishments that are closed for indoor service but open for outdoor service must prohibit patrons from entering the establishment, except to walk through in order to access the outdoor area, to leave the establishment, or
to use the restroom.

(b) For purposes of calculating its percentage of gross receipts from sales of alcoholic beverages under section 1, a food service establishment must use:

(1) Gross receipts from 2019; or

(2) If the establishment was not in operation in 2019, gross receipts from the date the establishment opened in 2020.”

Other Important Changes

Per order 2020-160 under section 8(b), outdoor gatherings of up to 250 people may be held, with precautions in place. Those precautions include:

“(1) The gathering or event is designed to ensure that persons not part of the same household maintain six feet of distance from one another;

(2) Persons not part of the same household maintain six feet of distance from one another;”

All businesses must now follow safety protocol outlined in order 2020-161. 

New Mask Enforcement Requirements for Businesses

Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-147, which reiterates that individuals are required to wear a face covering whenever they are in an indoor public space and crowded outdoor spaces. Most significantly, the order requires any business that is open to the public to refuse entry or service to people who refuse to wear a face covering.  As the order states, “No shirts, no shoes, no mask—no service.” The requirements for businesses take effect at 12:01 am on Monday, July 13. Individual requirements within the order, such as wearing a mask in any indoor public space, take effect immediately.

Under the order, businesses that are open to the public must refuse entry and service to individuals who fail to comply, and must post signage at all entrances instructing customers of their legal obligation to wear a face covering while inside. Those who are exempt from wearing a mask in Michigan businesses include people younger than five years old, those who cannot medically tolerate a face covering, and those who are eating or drinking while seated at a food service establishment. Further limited exemptions are located under section 2 of the order (more information below). A willful violation of the order is a misdemeanor subject to a $500 criminal penalty, but no term of confinement may be imposed on individuals who violate the mask requirement.

For the business community, on page 4, section 3 the order states (emphasis added):

“3. To protect workers, shoppers, and the community, no business that is open to the public may provide service to a customer or allow a customer to enter its premises unless the customer is wearing a face covering as required by this order.

a. Businesses that are open to the public must post signs at entrance(s) instructing customers of their legal obligation to wear a face covering while inside. The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity may, in its discretion, require such businesses to post signs developed and made available by the Department, or conforming to requirements established by the Department.

b. A department or agency that learns that a licensee is in violation of this section will consider whether the public health, safety or welfare requires summary, temporary suspension of the business’s license to operate (including but not limited to a liquor license) under section 92 of the Administrative Procedures Act of 1969, 1969 PA 306, as amended, MCL 24.292(2).”


Under section 2 of the order, there are limited exemptions to wearing face coverings:

“2. The requirement to wear a face covering does not apply to individuals who:

a. Are younger than five years old, though children two years old and older are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering, pursuant to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”);

b. Cannot medically tolerate a face covering;

c. Are eating or drinking while seated at a food service establishment;

d. Are exercising when wearing a face covering would interfere in the activity;

e. Are receiving a service for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service;

f. Are entering a business or are receiving a service and are asked to temporarily
remove a face covering for identification purposes;

g. Are communicating with someone who is hearing impaired or otherwise disabled and where the ability to see the mouth is essential to communication;

h. Are actively engaged in a public safety role, including but not limited to law enforcement, firefighters, or emergency medical personnel;

i. Are officiating at a religious service; or

j. Are giving a speech for broadcast or an audience.”

As more resources become available, we will work to provide them to our business community.

Printable Signage Resource

Some printable signage for businesses in northern Michigan may be found here.

%d bloggers like this: