Carmen Tisdale

Carmen Tisdale, who owns Hidden Gem Event Venue in Holt, testifies in front of the House Oversight Committee on Thursday. 

(The Center Square) – Eighty-three days into 2021, Grand Rapids-based Above and Beyond Catering owner Kim Smith said she hasn’t recorded a dollar of revenue in 2021 thanks to COVID-19 restrictions enacted by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Catering isn’t alone.

Wedding and funeral owners are pushing back on COVID-19 restrictions killing their business for the last year.

Smith has been in business for 45 years, she told the House Oversight Committee Thursday. Although she’s “done everything to keep afloat” since the state forced her business closed in March of 2020, her revenue is down 93.6%.

“How do you survive on 6.4% of revenue?” Smith asked

Smith begged Whitmer’s administration to give business owners a timeline to start reopening. Currently, indoor gatherings are limited to 25 people, while outside events are capped at 300. 

“Without this timeline, our businesses have no timelines, and our dreams are slowly dying,” Smith said.

Carmen Tisdale and her husband bought the Holt-based Hidden Gem Event Venue in January of 2020.

They moved three kids from West Michigan and invested equity from a house into the venue, only to have the state government shut it down for a year and then hand them a $14,000 tax bill.

While brides spend years planning their wedding, quickly-shifting state mandates make it nearly impossible, Tisdale said.

“[Customers are] asking us questions that we can’t answer,” Tisdale said. “How do you book an event when you don’t know what the restrictions are going to be a few months down the line?”

Tisdale said some people are either canceling their weddings or pushing them into 2022, as the 25-person limit indoor and 300-person outdoor is “unrealistic” for an event venue.

Without help from the Small Business Association, they’d already be out of business, Tisdale said.

“We’re not fighting for our business. We’re fighting for our legacy,” Tisdale said.

The $14,000 tax bill from the Whitmer’s administration, which bans them from fully operating, “feels like a crime,” an emotional Tisdale said.

“We need help to pay our mortgage, but we’re going to pay yours?” she asked. “I don’t think so.”

Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, agreed.

“The government shut you down, but they still want you to pay them? That makes no sense,” Johnson said.

When Tisdale told the state government they couldn’t pay the bill, she said the government just threatened penalties and fines.

The state health department hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment.

Funeral home directors also testified in front of the Senate Health Policy and Human Services Thursday, saying the 25-person indoor cap should be lifted as visitors know how to socially distance and wear a mask longer than a year after the pandemic began.

Sarah Jensen-Vatter and Allen Jensen own Palmer Bush Jensen Funeral Homes in Lansing and Holt.

“I’ve laid to rest dozens of infants and children whose mothers’ had to focus longer on the guest list than remembering their child’s last smile,” Jensen-Vatter said.

Jensen-Vatter advocated for raising the 25-person indoor cap, as funeral home workers currently have to kick grieving visitors outside when approaching the cap, and brutal Michigan winters reduce the opportunity for outdoor funerals.

“Humans need people around them when they are vulnerable and sad,” Jensen-Vatter said, reading a letter from a customer. “Please give funeral homes the discretion to manage the flow of visitors that they’ve been doing for decades.”

Jensen said he couldn’t understand why he can visit a big-box store with hundreds of people inside, but only 25 people can attend an indoor funeral.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.