Traverse City follows the rules
Certain geographic clusters formed within the latter two tables. Four of the five quickest-to-recover markets bordered the Great Lakes, and the three slowest-to-recover markets were in the South. Walls suspected that these groupings may correlate to government restrictions in some way, but when he examined the data, he could find no quantitative link.
“One of the difficult things for us … is trying to see what the restrictions are locally. They’re just all over the place,” he says. “But we managed to go through and look into that, and I thought there might be a correlation with that and there wasn’t, and I was actually surprised. From what I could tell, these weren’t the markets that were all shutdown the most.”
In fact, some anecdotes hint that the reverse may be true: Markets that were proactive and stricter in their initial responses set their residents up for an accelerated recovery.
In the period between June 14 and September 12, Traverse City, Michigan, witnessed one of the quickest dine-in recoveries, second only to Las Vegas. Traverse City resident and chef Eric Patterson says that for as difficult as the last several months have been, things could have been much worse. He credits much of that to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who received equal parts praise and condemnation for the state’s stringent regulations.
“Our governor has been strict on a lot of things. I think the way she handled the pandemic as a whole has given Michigan the opportunity to open up faster than a lot of other markets,” says Patterson, who co-owns The Cooks’ House with chef Jennifer Blakeslee. “It was painful—don’t get me wrong—and we lost three or four restaurants up here because it was as slow as it was. But I think had she not acted with some of that severity, it could have been even worse.”
The Cooks’ House pivoted to carryout for the first two-and-a-half months of the pandemic before transitioning back to limited on-site business. The fine-dining restaurant, which typically holds eight tables inside, had to cut that capacity to 50 percent, but it was able to compensate with a few additional tables on the porch and under a makeshift tent.
Nestled on Lake Michigan, Traverse City is also a vacation destination—something else that likely played to its advantage over the summer.
“Once everything got opened up again somewhat, northern Michigan is just the perfect place to get out of those closed-in blues that we all have from being locked down,” Patterson says. On the flip side, he worries about the winter ahead when the city slows down and frigid temperatures eliminate al fresco options. “I’m hoping we don’t have to do another shutdown this winter. I’m fearful it’s going to happen,” he adds.