The hammer came down hard one year ago. To the frank astonishment of restaurant owners and customers looking forward to St. Patrick’s Day specials — from green beer to corned beef and cabbage — the state decreed restaurants and bars had to close that afternoon due to the emerging pandemic.
And the ripple effects continue to rock the industry.
Rumors had begun to circulate that morning of a possible shutdown, said Butch Lehman, co-owner of Lehman’s Supper Club on Rice Lake’s south side. Shortly after lunch, news officially began to spread: Be prepared to shut down and vacate bar and restaurant premises by 5 p.m.
Lehman’s had plenty of food on hand for its St. Patrick’s Day specials, with much of the prep work already accomplished by lunchtime. Lehman shook his head and wondered why the state didn’t say midnight instead of before the supper hour.
“A lot of food was thrown out,” Lehman said.
Shannon Mouw, owner of Shananagan’s in Rice Lake, faced a similar predicament as she had planned a corned beef and cabbage supper for the evening in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
“I thought they would have given us more warning than what they did,” she said.
The bar and grill sold some of the special before closing down and facing an uncertain future. And both Lehman’s and Shananagan’s turned their business eye toward curbside, takeout and delivery to keep some income coming in and staff on the payroll. Mouw said she made plenty of reuben sandwiches and corned beef and cabbage-based soups specials in the days to follow.
Thanks to the takeout and curbside business, employees were still getting in some hours. But the going was rough for Honey Lasieur, who now works at Tipsy Tavern in Rice Lake.
Bar and restaurant workers had no idea what to do, she said, and could hardly believe the shutdown was real.
“It was the strangest thing in my life,” Lasieur said.
The bartender applied for unemployment but didn’t see a penny for 17 weeks — a long time to go without income. The shutdown and loss of her job was stressful, but so was going back to work when the restriction eased up at the end of May, she said.
Lasieur said she touched about $3,000 in dollar bills on one night and worried that she was going to contract COVID-19 because staff interacted so closely with customers. Employees pretty much touch everything their customers touch.
And that’s why Lehman takes the health and safety of his employees seriously now that bars and restaurants can open at 50% capacity. Daily Lehman’s employees have their temperatures checked, and Lehman counts his business lucky that although a few staff members have come down with COVID-19, no one has contracted the illness at the supper club and it hasn’t had to shut down.
“We don’t need to lose a couple of weeks on top of everything,” he said.
Business is still down, but Lehman expressed guarded optimism now that people were getting vaccinations and emerging from their homes after a long winter. He and Mouw said customers were returning after their second dose of vaccine, but Lasieur also noted that many people were getting tax money back, the spring holiday season was in gear and the promise of summer was on the horizon.
Still, the bar and restaurant industry isn’t out of the woods yet. Lehman’s has lost a lot of special events and regular meetings, such as the Rotary Club and Kiwanis, and many restaurants could be destined for failure if COVID-19 fears persist through summer and into fall.
The Rice Lake Area Free Clinic, located at the Medical Arts Building at 1035 N. Main St., Rice Lake, has reopened and is starting its 11th year. Those seeking their services should enter at the ground level at the back of the building on the lake side. It is open Tuesday evenings, starting at 4 p.m. No appointments are needed, but those seeking medical help should call ahead at 715-736-3733 so an adequate number of volunteer providers are available.
Half of the 10-member board has served since the clinic first opened its doors in June 2010. They include PA-C Clare Jantry, president; Dr. Lisa Mink, vice president; Dr. John Henningsen, secretary; Lisa Janty, treasurer; and Dr. Mark Nymo. Clinic director Mike Farrell, an RN, is the only paid staff member.
“It’s a passion project for many of us,” said Clare Janty. She, along with others on the board, have taken trips across the world to bring healthcare to those in need before realizing there are many across the town also in need. “Let’s take care of our own in our own communities,” she said, and just like that the Rice Lake Area Free Clinic began.
Others who have joined the board in its first decade are Cindy Paulsen, Nancy Kraft, Dr. Byron Crouse and Public Health Director Laura Sauve.
The focus area of the Rice Lake Area Free Clinic is Washburn, Barron and Rusk counties. But Janty said the word “area” is important, as it is the only free clinic between Superior to the north and Menomonie, Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire to the south. She said their patients come from far and wide across the region.
The board president said they tried to keep the free clinic open as long as they could in 2020 but shut down during spikes in COVID cases in July and again November-January.
Even though the clinic building was closed during parts of the year, the volunteer staff still saw 52 new patients among 382 total patients in 2020.
“We tried to do it from the parking lot, one at a time,” Janty said of their effort to continue long after many other businesses had closed. “We did not want our patients to go without their medications or the care they needed.
“When we were closed, we instituted a telemedicine platform,” she added. “I think it will help us as we grow.”
She said the new provider/patient venue worked especially well with medication reviews and behavioral health. She said the telemedicine option has also worked well for those who have to work on Tuesday nights or for other reasons are not able to meet in person.
The clinic’s efforts focus on primary care, preventive care and chronic disease management. The top three conditions the clinic volunteers treat are asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure. The clinic also offers physical therapy services on the second and fourth Tuesdays, a diabetes educator on the third Tuesday, dietitian and behavioral health counseling as scheduled, and orthopedics ophthalmology, nephrology and dermatology by referral.
The clinic is unable to provide psychiatric services or medication management.
Unique from other free clinics that typically have one healthcare partner, the Rice Lake Area Free Clinic has four — Marshfield Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Cumberland Healthcare and Spooner Healthcare. Janty said they rotate the lab work required and support the free clinic in many other ways.
“When you come to the free clinic, it is free,” said Janty, explaining that clinic is part of a purchasing consortium called Volunteers in Medicine.
“We are totally funded by donations,” she said, acknowledging past donations by former resident and benefactor Foster Friess, service groups and local businesses. “It is because of the generosity of the area that we have been able to continue to provide services.”
The Rice Lake Community Health Foundation offers an annual matching grant, and the United Way has supported its efforts with a grant for four volunteers to take an online course to better communicate with Spanish-speaking patients.
Once the staff was all vaccinated at Cumberland Healthcare in January, they were given the OK to reopen the free clinic. They started out slowly in February and are now ready to help any or all who are uninsured or underinsured.
“We’re happy to be up and running again,” Janty said, knowing there is a need more than ever to help those who have no where else to turn.
Like the board, she said many of the clinic’s volunteers have been with them since the beginning. She reminds the public that clinic volunteers do not have to have medical training as there is always a need for greeters/traffic control helpers, those who could contribute by providing snacks or lending a hand with janitorial jobs or office work.
Their mission from the start has been to create a healthier community by providing services to the uninsured and/or underinsured in the area. Patients should bring proof of income, tax return or check stubs.
To ensure the future stability of the clinic, an endowment fund has been established and charitable, memorial or other donations of any size are welcomed. They can be sent to: Rice Lake Area Free Clinic-VIM, 1035 N. Main St., Suite G02, Rice Lake, WI 54868. Or go to email@example.com for more information.
A pop-up thrift shop is opening Friday at Cedar Mall as a joint effort by two animal rescue groups. Little Red Barn Dog Rescue and Here to the Rescue, a trap-neuter-return cat group, are teaming up with the new venture.
Run by volunteers from both groups, the thrift store will have all the usual items — clothing, footwear, housewares, books, toys and more — and a food pantry for cats and dogs. With no paid staff, 100% of sales will go to the groups that are seeing an increasing number of dogs and cats.
Little Red Barn Dog Rescue founder Maureen Mlejnek said, “We’ve gotten to meet a lot of our Facebook supporters who have brought in donations.”
She thanks those who have already given donations of items, and she encourages giving on a regular basis so they can continue to help meet the needs of dogs and cats in the area. Mlejnek said already this year they have rescued 49 dogs, up from 12 by this time last year.
A corner of the shop, which is across from Beauty and the Beast Hair Salon, features items handmade by supporters. On shelves now are gnomes in two sizes made by supporter Mark Larson. The shop also has merchandise to raise awareness for both causes. This includes T-shirts, hoodies, hats and face masks.
Shop hours in March will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Monday. They are hoping to extend those hours more in April, as more donations come in and volunteers offer to help.
“We are excited to have them here and help them raise money for their cause,” said Marie Nett, mall manager.