Williamston businesses fight to stay afloat

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The past year and a half has been abnormal for small business owners.

From financial setbacks, supply and labor shortages, businesses in the City of Williamston are trying to adjust to their new normal, but according to two business owners, sales are picking up. Book Farm LLC owner Liz Goble is no different. Book Farm LLC is a children’s book store and book supplier for schools and libraries located right on Grand River Avenue.

“We’ve had a hard time even getting people interested in working here, and we have had several positions open,” Goble said. “It was really hard to find enough people to cover all aspects of those different areas for our business.”

According to Goble, the sales for Book Farm LLC did not slow down due to the pandemic, so her scaled-down staff was working seven days a week for months, trying to keep up with the shipments for their customers who were ordering products.

On top of the staffing issues, Book Farm LLC is experiencing major supply shortages.

“We work with over a hundred publishers,” Goble said. “Things that would normally arrive from the publishers just two or three days after we order them are taking over a week to arrive.

Book Farm LLC, located on 141 W. Grand River Ave. in Williamston, is seeing an uptick in sales since the beginning of the pandemic. Credit: Isabella Johnson

The benefits

There are many different ways that businesses have been affected, but according to the owner of  Studio Shop, Will Long, not all of them have been negative.

“People are more prone to shop small,” Long said. “That was the change we saw. Instead of ordering things online when they want something, people decide they want to support a small business.”

The Studio Shop is a Michigan-themed gift shop that also focuses on creative services like photography, graphic design, embroidery, etc. Long said that after everything everyone has been through, people are more drawn to want to support small businesses like his.

The Studio Shop on 138 E. Grand River Ave. sells everything from t-shirts to cutting boards and everything in between. They are open Monday-Sunday 10 am-6 pm. Credit: Isabella Johnson

Economic support

Michigan businesses have been affected by various different mask and gathering mandates since mid-2020, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation created the Michigan Small Business Survival Grant Program to help combat the setbacks businesses faced as a direct result of the mandates.

Credit: Isabella Johnson

The grants were distributed to 15 different economic development organizations across the state to be awarded to small businesses within those EDOs in February 2021. 

The Lansing Economic Area Partnership is the EDO that supplied these grants to Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham counties. Of the 1,045 businesses that submitted applications, only 194 were awarded the grant of $15,000 each. One of which is the Sun Theatre Williamston.

Sun Theatre has been a staple of the Williamston community since 1947, but they had to close its doors in March 2020 and have not been able to fully open since.

“The grant has really helped us out because we are in a very bad need of a new roof, and that is around like $40,000 to fix,” said the owner Lisa Robitaille.  “We were going to get it replaced right before everything shut down, so then we just decided to hold off, but the money was very helpful to put towards fixing it.”

Although there are no plans for the theatre to reopen, Robitaille is excited for the day she gets to see the regular customers she has gotten to know after owning the Sun Theatre for the past 21 years.

“It’s kind of a hobby for us,” said Robitaille. “I have missed it.”

The doors of Sun Theatre remain closed through the weekend. The theatre has been owned and operated by the same family for the past 74 years. Credit: Isabella Johnson

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