Saline's Local Economic Repair Deserves a Road Closure and Detour in 2021
SALINE, MI (March 24, 2021) I got this epiphany the other day when I took a detour to bypass some road construction. Without question, I found myself taking a slightly different route to provide safety for construction workers who were repairing the road. I do this nearly everyday, and without cause to complain or make any issue of it.
As the director of a downtown revitalization nonprofit in Saline, I am asking our local government and residents to allow the half-block closure of S Ann Arbor Street in order to recreate last season's recovery zone, the Umbrella Square. Doing so will require drivers coming from the north and south to make a small detour from May through October. While it's not your typical road construction, the closure is just as critical to repair our local economy. Call it economic construction, if you will. The numbers here are dire, and in terms of jobs, local commerce and downtown property management? Our downtown is in crisis.
The biggest, hardest hits have landed on our restaurants citywide. One downtown restaurant reports that it went from 74 employees to 4 at its lowest point, and is now only back up to 11. Another restaurant owner reports that his 2019 revenue marked at $1.7M was reduced to $850K in 2020 — falling behind 6 figures in unpaid rent, bills and debt service to stay open and adapt. There are 5 more cafes and restaurants to track in the downtown alone, but I will just stop there, only to mention that we lost the Cheese Shop of Saline last Saturday when they closed for good.
Think about this local economic disaster. Landlords are not getting rent. People are not working. Taxes are not being paid. Utilities are getting shut off. Distributors and local vendors are way down on orders. Retailers are working harder than ever and hanging by a thread. And as the Cheese Shop well knows, it adds tens of thousands of dollars to their debt just to pull the plug and call it a day.
I am not saying that driving a block east or west of S Ann Arbor Street doesn't create impacts. I understand that it does. But, I find myself disheartened when I hear that people won't come downtown because of this detour, or that they are driving extra fast through neighborhoods to make up the extra 4 minutes.
To those who believe that the 4 major restaurants who will set up in this outdoor service space are the only ones who benefit? I want to challenge that perspective. Last year in the recovery zone, these businesses performed an on-going weekly if not daily beautiful marketing event for all of Saline's small businesses — sometimes even during extreme heat or the bitter cold of winter. It was lively and inviting here when the Umbrella Square was in place, right in prime view of drivers passing through on Michigan Avenue. People were safely social while they ate, shopped and strolled the sidewalks.
And, our crushed local economy was majorly bolstered by dollars that came streaming in. Downtown Saline became a destination and a way for people to engage and support their favorite shops, restaurants and services. Locals and visitors connected here from as far away as Ann Arbor, Tecumseh and Monroe — and even beyond our state's border.
When the restaurants weren't open, their tables and chairs were rearranged for live music, meetings and picnics. Art and cityscape painting. Cycling meet-ups. An antique auto rally and university film class. Farmers market seating for vendor goodies and Benny's pretzels on Saturday morning — street chalk and birthday parties.
We at Saline Main Street are working hard with our Community Recruitment and Retention Team partners — City of Saline staff, Saline Leadership Institute, Saline Area Schools, and the Chamber of Commerce to bring Umbrella Square back this year. While last year's decision to create this recovery zone was delayed until July, we hope this year to get it up and running much sooner. We are busy trying to make the case for this critical outdoor service area to support recovery and illustrate how it will serve to help all of the small businesses in Saline.
So please, just try to imagine that we are the Washtenaw County road crew asking for a 6-month detour. Help make room in your driving schedule so that your favorite places to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, friends, family and holidays can weather this crisis. Drive a few feet more, leave 4 minutes earlier and please keep coming downtown. Everyone is ready to roll out the red carpet over those S Ann Arbor Street yellow lines to welcome you for great food, fabulous shopping and awesome services — and lots of space to be social here in the heart of Saline.