Leaders say Downtown Holland merchants ready, eager to reopen

Downtown Holland will start to come back to life this week after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced shops could reopen May 26 in a limited capacity. 

After 11 weeks of being closed, merchants are eager to reopen, even though they are restricted to a limited number of shoppers by appointment only, says Allan Hoekstra, president of EDP Management, downtown’s biggest landlord. Restaurants are still limited to curbside service.

“We need to get open, and we need to begin exploring what is the best operating model. What makes customers feel most comfortable, what makes you feel safe in getting back downtown,” Hoekstra says.

Webinar for business

His comments were made during a May 21 webinar presented by the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce and Lakeshore Advantage, featuring healthcare and business leaders discussing tips for reopening. 

Also on the panel were Holland Hospital CEO Dale Sowders, Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital President Ron Lewis, and Trans-Matic Manufacturing President P.J. Thompson. The webinar was hosted by Lakeshore Advantage President Jennifer Owens and Chamber President Jane Clark.

Both hospitals are ready for a surge of cases, and say, in the meantime, residents shouldn’t hesitate to seek care, whether they have COVID-19 symptoms or another illness. Patient and staff screening stations have been set up at entrances. All medical procedures — along with dentistry and veterinary — can reopen May 29, the day after the stay-at-home order is set to expire. 

“I can declare to you that, two-plus months into this, we have adequate capacity and enough PPE to keep patients and staff safe,” Sowders says. 

Keys to success

Both medical leaders say following public health practices, such as hand washing, wearing masks, and social distancing will be key to reopening successfully. So is transparency and providing frequent communication with staff to answer questions and address concerns about their safety. 

Related: Q&A: What businesses need to know ahead of reopening

Thompson, whose manufacturing operation has remained open throughout the crisis, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Labor, and the Ottawa County Health Department were critical in establishing safe procedures and practices.

“When you're trying to protect people, their families, and adhere to an executive order, it’s really important that we all take on a mind of compliance,” he says. 

Praise for support

EDP has remained in communication with tenants, working with them on creative ways to deal with rent so they can use their working capital in the most productive way, to keep their business strong and thriving when they get to open, Hoekstra said. 

He praises the Chamber and Lakeshore Advantage for putting together funds to support downtown businesses during this economic crisis. The Chamber also hosted the webinar, 5 Ways Small Businesses Can Prepare to Lead Their Teams.

“The reality is these things don't happen in every community. We are very blessed in the community we live in, given that high level of cooperation, respect for each other, and the willingness to help each other get through this. As difficult as it has been, the opportunity to see downtown businesses and landlords working together has been a positive experience,” Hoekstra says.

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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