Costs add up for Benton Harbor restaurants amid water problems


BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (WOOD) — Lead contamination in the water in Benton Harbor is forcing restaurants to take precautionary measures to stay open. 

James Etter takes pride in seeing his customers enjoy a meal at his sports bar, Chatterbox Bar and Grill.

“That’s what I’m here for,” Etter said. “To make their time enjoyable.”

The high levels of lead in the city’s water system, which prompted the state to tell people to stop drinking it, is putting a hurdle in front of that goal.

“There’s a lot of people still wary about the water,” Etter said. 

Then, earlier this week, another obstacle: A massive water main break meant there was no water at all for the majority of the city.

“It’s never-ending, it seems like,” Etter said. “New thing every day.”

The water main break forced Etter’s sports bar to close for half of Wednesday and all day Thursday. 

“It’s a couple thousand dollars at least and employees not getting their time in,” Etter said. “Worried about that, too. They need money. A lot of college kids (work here).”

While some restaurants in town are boiling their water used for cooking in response to the water main break, Etter is buying bottled water and ice to cook food and prepare drinks. Additionally, he’s only serving bottled and canned drinks. 

“You must buy ice every day,” Etter said. “Which is an expense because ice is not cheap. You get a bag of ice, almost $5 now.”

Because of a lack of storage at the sports bar, Etter finds himself making two or three trips per day to buy water and ice. All the extra measures are starting to add up.

“Water, pop and ice are probably about $100 each time,” Etter said. 

No matter what happens, the proud Benton Harbor native has no plans of closing:

“I’m not leaving Benton Harbor, that’s for sure.”

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