A May 13 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling struck down the extension of the Safer at Home order, placing the decision of when and how to reopen businesses back in the hands of business owners.
In the wake of the order, business owners scrambled to determine whether they would immediately reopen for business as usual, or follow a more delayed process.
On Facebook, local business pages reflected a variety of approaches owners took to the news. Some bars and restaurants opened May 14 or 15, while others waited until Monday. Some chose to remain closed to in-house dining for another week or two.
Most businesses that opened gave at least brief summaries of the steps they would take to protect their customers' health — usually additional sanitization and additional spacing, sometimes limiting the number of patrons inside the establishment as well. The Wisconsin Economic Development Association has released detailed resources for businesses navigating the reopening process (found online at wedc.org), which some locals reported they are taking advantage of. Many local restaurants announced they would continue to offer take-out options for customers who would prefer to dine out.
The Review called 10 businesses located throughout Price County, including bars, restaurants, salons, and retail businesses. Several did not return calls for comment, while others declined to speak on the record, saying that they did not want to receive criticism for either being overly cautious or not cautious enough as they navigated the process of reopening.
For many small business owners, the past two months have been financially and emotionally trying, and reopening is not as simple as it sounds.
Terry Timmers, owner of Homespun Coffee and Top Drawer Boutique in downtown Phillips, told the Review that the last two months have been the most stressful of her 27 years of small business ownership.
"It's extremely stressful. I feel stressed out because I'm worried about my workers. I feel saddened that we have to
treat everyone like they have the plague," she said.
"Right now, I feel like we just got dropped [after the order was struck down]. There are so many working parts that are extremely complicated. I felt like when we had the Stay at Home, at least we had direction. Now none of us know what to do ... and not everyone feels the same way, which makes it tough."
After consulting with her employees and the local health department, Timmers decided to reopen her business — which was completely closed for six weeks — on Monday, May 18.
As of mid-morning on Monday, Timmers reported a handful of customers had been in the business, either getting drinks to go or browsing the gift store options.
Seating inside the little coffee shop has been limited with tables spaced out, staff maintaining as much distance as possible, and regular sanitization of all surfaces that come in contact with people. Timmers said she's leaving the use of masks up to each individual.
Timmers said she plans to keep reviewing the state of things every week, waiting and watching to see how the situation develops.
In Prentice, Bethany Hartmann's salon Shear Elegance has been closed since March 23. As the weeks passed, Hartmann said she remained in weekly contact with customers wondering when the business would reopen, saying that it was an economically and mentally stressful time.
Shear Elegance reopened to the public on May 14, albeit with some new guidelines for customers and staff to follow. People are asked to come to their appointment alone, and only three customers are allowed in the business at one time. Hartmann and her two fellow stylists will wear masks, and ask that their customers do the same. Hartmann reported she has received safety guidance from the Wisconsin Board of Cosmetology.
Since reopening the salon, Hartmann reported that a steady stream of customers have been showing up for their hair appointments, and said everyone is fairly accommodating of the guidelines.
Birch Island Resort, located on Wilson Lake outside Phillips, has seen an extremely busy last two months, with the many take-out orders each week keeping the family-run business scrambling to keep up.
The resort chose not to retain employees during the time in which in-house customers were not allowed, instead operating as a husband-wife team, along with their two young kids.
Since reopening last week, Birch Island has enacted numerous changes to cater to customers' concerns, reducing the number of stools at the bar and tables in the dining room, and serving customers in togo boxes. Customers can then choose whether to take their meal home or eat at a table or outside if the weather is good.
Owners Dan and Holly Vernig told the Review they plan to closely follow the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, while welcoming customers who feel comfortable dining out.
Kayla Myers, owner of Kayla's Kitchen and Closet in Park Falls, decided to allow customers to dine in her establishment starting Monday, opening three of six tables for customer use. She reported a sparse handful of customers took advantage of the opportunity, while the majority continued to get food to go.
The retail side of her business, which features clothing, shoes, and jewelry, has also opened, although Myers is limiting the number of customers to five at any one time.
"It's been very stressful and chaotic," Myers said of navigating the last two months. "It can be hard to know what to do."
As a business owner, Myers has had to readapt her strategy for reaching customers, introducing clothing sales on Facebook live every Friday, and delivering food curbside for people to pick up.
"We've had to become really creative in what we're offering people," she said.
Even keeping the store stocked has proved somewhat difficult. With many clothing distributors closed down, it can be hard to get shipments of seasonal clothing in stock, according to Myers, and it can be difficult to find the same types of foods she normally serves customers.
While the last few months have been economically challenging, Myers said she's still receiving enough business to stay afloat — although she did have to let some of her part-time employees go.
"I think there will be long-term impacts from this, both good and bad," she said. "I think it will take quite a while before people are comfortable coming in to eat or shop."