This time of year is usually when Traverse City welcomes thousands of visitors who want to see the burst of cherry blossoms. But on Monday, the city's 125th anniversary, Mayor Jim Carruthers acknowledged the challenges the city has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, while also discussing the plans for partial reopening.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that businesses and restaurants in parts of Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula will be allowed to reopen on Friday, May 22, which includes Traverse City.
Carruthers said he has appreciated Whitmer's actions to help flatten the curve to get coronavirus under control, but it has been difficult for his city.
"It's pained me this entire time to say 'no, please don't come to Traverse City right now, we need to figure this out,'" said Carruthers. "But now, because we've done our part and we followed the orders and we followed the direction of coming from the governor's office, we're doing our jobs. So now with the new order we can, hopefully, open up and be successful and have a model for the rest of the state."
Every spring, more than 2 million blooming cherry trees bring visitors to the area, which relies on the tourism economy.
"Cherry blossoms are just about to explode," said Carruthers. "That's our signature 'Welcome to Traverse City, summer is here, our welcome mat is out there.' We want to be measured as the governor has said about how we invite people back and how we open our businesses."
Starting on Friday, retailers and restaurants in Traverse City will be allowed to reopen, but with capacity limitations and strict health and safety regulations in place. This is the first time the state will be allowed these businesses to reopen since mid-March.
"The economic challenges up north have been very, very frustrating. Driving down Front Street, Traverse City, it's horrible to see all the shops and restaurants and businesses closed. That's not Traverse City," said Carruthers. "Traverse City is a place that relies on all the good people from across Michigan and the entire country to come and enjoy themselves for a wonderful vacation or spending time with family and join the natural resources that we pride in."
While the governor said people should "think long and hard" before taking a trip to the regions that are reopening, Carruthers offered more of a measured invitation, saying the city is implementing changes.
Traverse City has been working on opening up their farmers market, by putting into place social distancing guidelines. The city is also considering closing down Front Street to vehicle traffic, so that there is enough room for pedestrians to walk down during the summer.
"In Traverse City, we just welcome you to come, but we want you to be safe, we still want you to be careful when you travel here," said Carruthers. He also encouraged people to wear masks while visiting the city.
"We want you to come have fun but we want you to be wise and safe and protect yourselves as well as all of our citizens," he said.
Even while Traverse City leaders are looking forward to welcoming visitors back, Whitmer was more cautious, saying that a small spike in COVID-19 cases could endanger their hospital system quickly.
"Don't descend on Traverse City from all regions of the state," she said. "If you're fortunate enough to have a place up north and you're headed there, bring your groceries with you and try not to go out unnecessarily."
Despite restrictions, Traverse City still celebrated its 125 birthday Monday. Carruthers said it was frustrating to not be able to celebrate in the streets, but they have been doing it virtually with bingo games and chalk drawings.
"We're going to keep on celebrating because that's what Traverse City is. Traverse City is a place to come and enjoy be with family, surround yourself with the natural resources that make Michigan so great, and to just be happy. And that's what we want everybody to do. So please support the governor and her measures to help us continue to flatten the curve and continue to hopefully open up the entire state so we can all go back to normal," Carruthers said.
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