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Small businesses cope with coronavirus

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Black Ice Comics employee Rachel LaMotte, right, heads out for a curbside delivery as owner Shana Porteen, left, watches from behind the entryway glass. Black Ice moved to curbside pickup and delivery Tuesday partially to help Porteen, whose immune system puts her at high risk from the COVID-19 virus.

HOUGHTON — Plenty of local businesses fall outside the statewide restrictions put on restaurants, bars, gyms and other spaces to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But even they are looking for ways to accommodate customers and deal with a less hospitable retail climate.

Black Ice Comics moved to curbside pickup and delivery Tuesday. Owner Shana Porteen, who is in a high risk group because of immune system deficiencies, was urged by her immunologist to cut herself off from the public. She spoke from behind glass in the entryway Wednesday, as employee Rachel LaMotte carried out a card swipe while wearing gloves.

“We don’t have any confirmed cases, but the local physician that I spoke with, they’re pretty certain it’s already here, we just don’t have the means to adequately test yet,” Porteen said.

Even before the shutdown of in-store service, Black Ice Comics had made accommodations for hygiene, frequently wiping down pens and surfaces and offering hand sanitizer in a container marked “Hulk Snot.”

Diehard customers have been coming, but business overall has been slow, Porteen said.

“They’ve been very understanding, and continue to pick up their books,” she said. “But at some point, I think everybody’s discretionary money is going to dry up. This is horrible.”

Porteen is bracing for a point when she cannot even be near her employees.

“We are employing every tool we have to keep in touch with our customers, to keep the shop viable, and stay safe,” she said.

The coronavirus could eventually also lead to new issues being delayed or halted.

While closures are temporary, Porteen is aware they could continue for the long haul. Porteen is trying to figure out how to cover overhead.

“This is where we have to dig deep and prioritize things,” she said. “I’m happy to keep peddling happiness to people as long as we can, and continue doing it in a safe as manner as possible for everybody involved.”

A sign in front of The Print Shop in Houghton specified that “none of us have traveled recently,” and listed sanitary features such as hand sanitizer.

The business is offering curbside or parking deck pickup, and telling customers they can email files for print. There has been no immediate response, said owner Tom Litsenberger.

“The people that are coming in have no problems coming in,” he said. “And I personally do a lot of deliveries … I’ve got runs tomorrow to four or five different customers.”

As for longer-term, the fortunes of local businesses are interconnected, Litsenberger said.

“If company A down the street loses business, that’s going to affect all of us,” he said. “It’s challenging times, but we’ll weather through it.”

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