For the year 2019, Sawyer County received a record amount of county sales tax revenue — the one-half percent tax applied to most retail sales in the county. For the first time, the county sales tax broke $2 million, indicating a healthy, vibrant, growing economy.
And the year 2020 started off like it could even be better than 2019, possibly even breaking the 2019 county sales tax record, but then in late March the COVID-19 pandemic brought Safer at Home orders, forcing many businesses and stores to shut their doors or curb operations.
In March and April, Sawyer County Administrator Tom Hoff was warning the Sawyer County Board of Supervisors that the sales tax revenue the budget relies on might be impacted as much as 20% or 30%, anywhere between $200,000 to $600,000 less revenue to run the county.
Back in March and April, Hoff's projections might have even seemed too optimistic for some as the economy was going into shutdown mode and millions around the nation were out of work. But then on May 13, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers Safer at Home order and many of the pandemic restraints were lifted. Suddenly the economy looked not so bleak, as stores and restaurants reopened and people began to expand travel to include short trips to regional destinations like Hayward.
As May moved into June, several industries experienced a rush of business activity. Real estate sales spiked, resort, motel and vacation rental bookings increased, recreational equipment sales jumped and new construction and home improvement got a shot in the arm, just to name a few.
Downtown Hayward was busy all summer long. Many retailers, busier than they had been in years, were reporting a great summer.
And now there are numbers to confirm all that good news.
Recently the Wisconsin Department of Revenue released county sales tax data for most
Sawyer County Public Officer Julia Lyons has a big smile to describe how the three county school districts — Hayward, LCO and Winter — are controlling the spread of COVID-19. But for how community members are failing to wear face coverings, comply with social distancing and follow-up on COVID-19 recommendations to control the pandemic, Lyons has a very big frown.
"We are letting our guard down," she said about the community. "We are still inviting people over or we are inviting people into our home and even if we are outside, we are not socially distancing, and we don't have our masks on."
Her concern arises from the increase in positive cases being reported. It is a trend that will eventually impact the schools, she said.
As of Tuesday morning, Oct. 6, the total number of COVID-19 positives for the county rose by 39 cases from the previous Tuesday, Sept. 29, from 219 to 258.
It's the highest-ever one-week rise tracked in Sawyer County and raises the level of concern to where it was when high-level community spread was occurring back in August. Back then new cases had been increasing by 34, 38 and 31 in consecutive weeks.
"We are doing really well with schools," Lyons said. "We are doing a really good job with screening and making sure we don't have sick students in the schools. We really have not had any issues related to COVID, not any that have caused us to close down the schools. That is really good. That is really positive.
"But we need our community to really help support us to keep the schools open. Because if we are spreading it a lot in the community, it will eventually impact the schools, so that's my bigger concern."
Lyons said schools are doing a good job by screening kids and sending those who are sick home. Social distance is being maintained, and classes are kept separate; if there is a student or teacher who tests positive, the spread will be contained to one class. Parents also have been supportive, including making sure their kids wear masks at school.
"The kids are wearing masks and the teachers are wearing the masks all day," she said. "It's not an issue."
In "letting their guard down," Lyons fears the public is no longer taking COVID-19 seriously and are not being as cautious as they should be.
"We are trying to do things they way we used to," she said. "It's hunting season and maybe we all come together as we have in the past at the hunting camp, and maybe we might all feel great the first day, but the issue we have is people get sick after the fact. They felt real fine when they were with others, but now people are sick. That's where we are breaking down. People are going to the bars and hanging out for Packer games. That's where you want to be careful and keep your distance so it isn't being spread."
Lyons is also hearing from some they are not concerned about COVID-19 because there has only been one death and just nine hospitalizations in the county. But there are many in the community who are very vulnerable to the disease, especially those over 60 who have other health risks.
"We are trying to protect that vulnerable population," she said.
Another reason to be concerned about COVID-19, Lyons said, is nobody knows the long-term impact from the disease. Some immediate data suggest that even those who showed no symptoms or mild symptoms from COVID might later have cardiac issues.
She also reminds the public there are many unknowns about COVID, just as there were with diseases that are now better understood. As an example, at one time parents thought chicken pox was not a serious illness and even had chicken pox parties so all the neighborhood kids could get it at the same time and develop immunity. Now science has revealed those who had chicken pox as a youth can experience shingles, a painful rash, as an adult.
"People who have shingles would have preferred not to have had chicken pox so they wouldn't have to deal with shingles when they are older," she said. "It took us a while to link that chicken pox to the adult. We don't know the long-term effects of COVID, and even mild cases might have long-term effects."
Of the 258 positives, 207 have recovered and 50 are active cases.
Contract tracers are monitoring 78 others, some of whom are in quarantine.
Since testing began in the county this spring, 4,768 have tested negative, and some have tested negative more than once.
Lyons was asked why Sawyer County doesn't include a category some counties are using called "probable cases."
She said those using "probable" are doing so because the test they are using identifies the protein of the coronavirus. That test is not as accurate as the test used in Sawyer County that identifies the RNA of the virus, a derivative of its DNA, she said.
"We have really good testing in our community and we don't need the 'probable' category," she said, because the test results return as either positive or negative.
Oct. 1, 2019: The Hidden Bay Graphics building at the corner of Highway B and Hall of Fame Drive in Hayward is consumed by fire.
Oct. 1, 2020: Hidden Bay Graphics holds an open house and ribbon cutting for its new building at the same site.
It seems remarkable that a year to the date the Hidden Bay Graphics building was destroyed by fire there would be a celebration. But there they were, members of the Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce celebrating with company officials and employees with free food, drinks and tours at the site that just a year ago was the fire-charred ruble of two entrepreneurs' dreams.
About two years ago, Becky Neibert and Shannon O'Hare purchased part of the Hidden Bay Graphics enterprise — the screen-printing, embroidery and promotional components of the business. In those two years they've been tested like most new business owners rarely are.
Even before they opened the doors, O'Hare's father, Robert J. Swanson, 93, who had overseen the design and renovation of the former Logger's Mill restaurant, died on the night of the contractor's party on Nov. 13, 2018.
In January 2019, the renovated facility was fully operational and printing T-shirts, and business was moving in a favorable direction. Ten months later the fire occurred.
"It was awful," Neibert said of the fire on Oct. 1, 2019. "It was unbelievable. You don't believe the severity of something like that until it happens to you. But the worst part of it was the sentimental value that all Shannon's dad had done was gone. That was the worst part of it."
While the embers were still smoldering, the women quickly made plans to continue production with a primary goal of retaining all their employees.
"We needed to move forward and do everything as fast as we could," O'Hare said. "We
didn't want to lose the employees we have because we have great employees. We wanted to keep everyone employed so when we moved back into this building we still had our family."
The day after the fire, Neibert said, they were talking to their insurance carrier and discussing when the building could be demolished and construction could begin.
"We were thinking of how we were going to go from here, but never for a split second did we think of walking away from it or saying forget it," Neibert said.
Production was moved to the former Lynn Marie's Candy store at Windmill Square. Most customers stayed. The employees worked in a much smaller space at a smaller scale of production, often resulting in overtime hours to fill orders.
"We couldn't produce what we were used to producing, but we made do," said O'Hare.
Neibert and O'Hare often worked from home because of their small office space, which was also the break room/conference room.
Then this spring the COVID-19 Safer at Home order was implemented and the operation shut down for three weeks before approval was given to continue production.
On Sept. 8 the operation finally moved back in the new building, which was completed by Shirriff Construction. Shortly afterward, the Hayward Area Chamber of Commerce called about a ribbon cutting for the new building.
O'Hare realized one of the dates the chamber suggested was Oct. 1.
"Oh, my gosh, it's going to be one year," she said. "Wouldn't it be something to have it on the one-year anniversary?"
A second chance
Starting from the outside, the new building is impressive.
Neibert and O'Hare came up with the eye-catching red and black color scheme for the building and their graphic designer created the design for the sign that was made and placed by DP Vinyl Design out of Stone Lake.
"He did a fantastic job," Neibert said of sign-maker's work.
The floor plan is very similar to what O'Hare's father had designed in the former renovated building, but the art room was moved and the retail space was expanded four times its original size.
On the production side, a second auto-press was added. Each press can print out between 500-600 T-shirts in an hour.
New capabilities for decorating and creating individual orders were also added, like a birthday T-shirt with a photo of dad on the front.
"We've added bigger and better equipment, and we can work even faster," said Neibert. "As soon as we get all caught up, we will now have the capacity for 10-day turnaround on larger orders, which we couldn't do before."
Business is good, with orders coming in to keep all 16 employees busy, and soon there will be another screen printer on site.
"Once things opened up again, people started getting out and people wanted to spend money," Neibert said.
After the tourists returned, several resorts experienced a run on their clothing and Hidden Bay Graphics was asked to restock shelves with old and new designs.
In an effort to keep up to date with the way that people shop, Hidden Bay Graphics offers online shopping for businesses, clubs and organizations. This allows employees and customers to order logo apparel that is decorated and shipped by Hidden Bay.
The company is also exploring opening social media shops and selling T-shirts, including Trump and Biden shirts for the 2020 presidential candidates.
Both women say they feel very positive about the future and anticipate a full year in the new building will be stellar.
"We keep saying that 2021 is going to be our year," Neibert said.
"We are very appreciative of all the employees who stuck with us during the hardship times," O'Hare said.
Looking back, both owners say they can relate to that famous quote by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche on overcoming major life challenges: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."
"It gives you a different outlook," Neibert said. "It gives us a little more determination to continue on to honor Shannon's dad. We keep saying, 'This is really great, and we are going to make him proud.'"
O'Hare said the experience of rebuilding after the fire made her appreciate the opportunity to have a second chance.
"We have a second chance at this and we want to do it even better," she said.
Hidden Bay Graphics may be contacted at (715) 934-5353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email sales questions to email@example.com.
The website is www.hiddenbaygraphics.com.