Another COVID-19 Casualty — Small Business

It will take years to fully understand the economic impact of COVID but last week the stark reality of a larger looming economic collapse hit home. After two and a half years of searching for a buyer and the inability to reopen during the shutdown my Aunt and cousin made the tough call to permanently close Angelo’s pizza.

A recent Buzzfeed article stated an estimated 100,000 small businesses closed permanently prior to June’s attempts for some state’s to reopen and in a survey completed by Yelp half of the restaurants that were closed due to COVID-19 admitted they wouldn’t reopen. While Angelo’s isn’t unique it is a story of a restaurant that served its community for 40 years that is no longer. Like many Americans facing economic challenging times the closure of our main street businesses adds a substantial sting to the current situation.

Many years ago, my grandparents Richard (Dick) and Jean Cottier achieved a life goal and opened a restaurant in a small town in the upper peninsula of Michigan. For years they had been traveling to the northern woods from their hometown of Cleveland, Ohio to fish in the summer and ski in the winter. After my grandfather’s early retirement from the railroad they took a leap left Cleveland and started a new life in the UP.

The restaurant to the family was called the Pizza Store and to the community Angelo’s pizza. While no one in our family was named Angelo, nor were we Italian the restaurant was an integral part of my childhood. I grew up celebrating birthdays in break-rooms and hearing jokes about making “lots of dough” and of course my grandfather’s favorite the regular “cutting of the cheese”. This little pizza place with a name that stared with “A”, so it was first in the yellow pages was my grandparents’ dream and it was a great environment to grow up in.

My first job was being paid a penny a piece for folding the takeout boxes. While I never worked in the family business officially my grandfather, uncle, aunt, and others taught me so much about customer service and being a part of a community as a business owner.

Christmas Carolers, Jim and Richard and birthdays at Angelo’s

It could not have been easy gaining a presence in a small mining and tourist town, but my grandparents persevered. Angelo’s became a local hangout for the young, old, and tourist and local alike. Everyone was welcome and while the restaurant never did delivery, they had a monopoly on a local favorite the pizza pasty.

Angelo’s was a fixture in Ironwood, and it survived many difficulties. First in 1987 when the country was hit by a massive recession in the fall and that November my grandmother was killed by a drunk driver on her way home after closing the restaurant. I honestly don’t know how my grandfather kept going. It was a rough time; the family was distraught and the entire community mourned while the economy bottomed out. The snow seeking travelers dwindled and summer tourism was hit by drought, but Angelo’s remained.

Dick ( aka Grumpy), Eve, & Jim Cottier

The resilience of my Grandfather Dick (aka grumpy), Uncle Jim, and Aunt Eve kept the stone ovens burning despite rough times. The restaurant remained a part of the Ironwood community for many more years and many more changes. I survived location changes the death of my uncle and even the death of my grandfather.

In more recent years my cousin Kelly helped run the restaurant and the female Cottiers kept Angelo’s afloat until the Facebook post last week. While it is sad to see the restaurant go, I am proud to have grown up around such tenacity, customer service, and spirit. I have been witness to how a local business supports a community not just through jobs but as a break room for the police officer, a warm smile after a hard day, and a hot meal out of the bitter cold.

Thank you, Eve and Kelly, for all that you have done for Ironwood, for Grandma, Grandpa and Jim.

Angelo’s is not alone, many family businesses that were struggling prior to the shutdown are or will not survive in today’s economic turmoil. If you are working and want to eat out bypass Doordash and UberEATS, order from your favorite small business go say hi and offer a big tip, they need all the help, support and kindness they can get.

For more information on the crumbling of Main Street business check out this Buzzfeed article by Vanessa Wong:

Main Street Is Crumbling Before Our Eyes — And No One Seems to Be Able To Save It

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Sharleen Tufts

An experienced leader/mom who writes on topics like corp. indecision, surviving chaos, inclusion and diversity, work-life balance, advocating for your health.