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Business made example of after defying executive order

HOUGHTON — Acting under orders from the Houghton County Prosecutor, Brittany Bulleit, Houghton police Tuesday issued an order to Michael and Stacy Kowalczyk, owners of Otter River Outfitters, on Shelden Ave., to shut the the retail business’ doors, after an article in Monday’s Daily Mining Gazette stated the outlet recently re-opened. The order came three days before U.P. businesses will be permitted to re-open according to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order.

“Despite us being shut down,” said Michael Kowalczyk, “no one else will be shut down. It was a direct response to your article on us about opening up.”

In an email, Kowalczyk said he was told by the police that the order was issued by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office.

“The police said that Gretchen and (the) state’s Attorney read the article, and they wanted to make an example out of us for disobeying the closing order,” Kowalczyk said. “The officer was extremely professional and nice; he was sympathetic to us, given his orders from the State’s Attorney’s Office and Gretchen.”

Houghton Police Chief John Donnelly confirmed that his office received the order, but said it came from the county prosecutor. He also confirmed that it was the result of a May 18 article in the Daily Mining Gazette.

“There was a story publicized about the Otter place opening before the executive order was up,” Donnelly said. “We were directed by Brittany Bulleit (Houghton County prosecuting attorney) to go and say: ‘you are not to open officially until the executive order is up.'”

Donnelly added that had Kowalczyk done it “under the radar,” the police department might not have said anything. Whether Bulleit acted on the DMG article, or received orders from the governor of the attorney general, Donnelly said he did not know.

Whitmer’s executive orders and policies regarding Michigan’s COVID-19 outbreak have received criticism both in the state and across the country, for several reasons, some based on legal standpoints, others on political views, and also from financial perspectives. Her executive orders, particularly those pertaining to small business closures while stores known as “big box” remain open, have been the subject of armed protests in Lansing.

“I fully support any business that opens and remains open,” Kowalczyk said, “given the restrictions placed on owners despite what happened today (Tuesday). I would hate to see my wife be arrested for something so un-American and wrong to do to any person, family, or group who tries to better themselves and make a living.”

Kowalczyk said he and his wife understand safety, and they, as well as their employees, have loved ones whom they would hate to see anything happen to. They, and others in similar situations, feel that Whitmer has been ignoring the financial devastation of small businesses as creditors still expect payments.

“Safety is first, but no one is going to bail us or anyone else out of debt, pay my mortgage or feed my family but us,” Kowalczyk said. “To take away someone’s right to the pursuit of happiness, life and liberty, and deem them unimportant is a violation of our rights.”

Kowalczyk, and his wife, both natives of Illinois, said words cannot express his love of the Upper Peninsula.

“I now know why they call it God’s country,” Kowalczyk said. “It’s not the landscape, it’s the people. We have met so many inspiring, loving, and hard-working people.”

Kowalczyk said said he encourages everyone to shop locally and avoid the big box stores that have operated with impunity under Whitmer’s executive orders, while small businesses have been targeted.

“My money will be spent were I can see the person use it,” he said. “Karvakos, in Tapiola; Kurt’s Korner in Elo; Down Wind; Chickadees; Surplus Outlet; Edge Tattoo; Wilkies in Baraga; Rustic Coffee; Apple Blossom; The Den; KBC Beer.”

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