Some businesses rush to reopen, others wait

With no rules, merchants, officials navigate confusion, make tough decisions as cases of the coronavirus increase

BARTENDER Brook Keller flashed a smile as she poured drinks for Tim Snook, Sarah Brakke and Corey Call at the Iron Hog in the Town of Port Washington last week. The bar reopened Wednesday afternoon, May 13, shortly before it was announced that the Wisconsin Supreme Court had struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

When the Wisconsin Supreme Court lifted the Safer at Home order last Wednesday, it was auspicious timing for Chad Arndt, who had previously announced he was opening the Iron Hog tavern in the Town of Port Washington that day.

The tavern, he said, was busy and customers and employees were thrilled to be back.

“At least we’re up and running,” Arndt said. “It’s nice. My employees are working again. My customers are happy. I’ve had overwhelming support from the locals.”

Businesses around the area have opened up, some wholeheartedly and others cautiously, since Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order was lifted May 13.

At the same time, the Washington Ozaukee Health Department is seeing an uptick in the number of Covid-19 infections. Health Officer Kirsten Johnson said Wednesday the county has 139 cases of the coronavirus, up from 111 last week.

“We’ve seen an uptick every day since last week,” Johnson said. On Tuesday, May 5, she said, Ozaukee County had four new cases. A week later, on May 12, there were seven new cases. And on Tuesday, May 19, there were 17 new cases.

And, Johnson said, she expects that number will continue to increase as businesses reopen, the weather gets warmer and people get tired of staying at home.

“I think the message for people is just because the Safer at Home order was lifted doesn’t mean the virus is gone,” she said. “We need to continue to social distance, to limit our interaction with others.”

The county has scheduled two free mass testing events, Johnson said. The first will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through  Saturday, May 28, 29 and 30, at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon, and the second from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, June 1 to 3, at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

People must be registered to be tested. To register, call (262) 365-5878 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from May 26 to June 2.

“We’re trying to make sure we can test everyone so we can contact trace those who test positive and try to slow it (the virus) down,” Johnson said.

While many people visited local restaurants, bars and shops once the Safer at Home order was lifted, not everyone was excited by the news.

Arndt said that after word of the tavern’s reopening hit the news, he received numerous threats — everything from “I hope you get the coronavirus” to “I hope you die,” with some people referring to him as a Nazi and a “cracker” — online and via the telephone from across the state and nation. 

To Arndt, there’s little difference between allowing people to visit his establishment and essential businesses such as Walmart and Menard’s.

“People have a choice,” he said, noting if they aren’t comfortable going to a business, they shouldn’t go out.

Most businesses throughout the area that have reopened have taken steps to help keep staff members and customers safe, including marking off six-foot distances near registers, adding sanitizers and allowing masks to be worn.

John Weinrich, owner of Newport Shores  restaurant in Port Washington, reopened last week but said business has been slow. 

“I’m just glad to be reopened,” he said. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel. I think as soon as the weather changes, people are going to be out. Our big patio is perfect for people who aren’t comfortable eating inside.”

At the Chocolate Chisel, which has elected to keep its store closed but offer lobby service, most but not all of the customers have been receptive to the change, owner John Reichert said.

“We have employees who have compromised immune systems, and we don’t want anyone to get sick,” Reichert said, adding he will wait a couple weeks to re-evaluate his policy. “But we’ve had people who have left because we wouldn’t let them in the store.”

One group of seven customers was verbally abusive to a 16-year-old employee who wouldn’t let them inside, he said.

Nate Sherper of Sherper’s in downtown Port said his shop opened a day before the order was lifted — something they were allowed to do because they sell bikes and boats.

“For the most part, people coming in are people who are less worried about it,” Sherper said. Those who are concerned have been taking advantage of their curbside service, he added.

Sherper, who is president of Port Main Street Inc., said many downtown businesses were preparing to reopen during the shutdown, and most have at least partially opened.

“Everybody was pretty uneasy, not knowing what the future looks like,” he said. “Every business owner was probably working twice as much to keep business going and preparing for the reopening; they were  just doing different things.”

Main Street, he added, is hoping to open its farmers market in June with safety measures in place. Those measures haven’t been decided yet, he said, but could include limiting the number of people.

“We intend to have the farmers market, it just might not look the same,” Sherper said.

That plan, however, may face some challenges. The Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday discussed whether to allow public events on public property during the summer, and is expected to make a decision when it meets June 2.

The city is also considering not opening its pool this summer and is looking at how and when to reopen playgrounds. The Village of Grafton and City of Cedarburg have decided not to open their pools, Recreation Director Kiley Schulte said.

Businesses aren’t the only places reopening. The Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA in Saukville will reopen Tuesday, May 26, but limit the number of people to 25% of its capacity, Executive Director Rob Johnson said.

The Y, which has continued its child care program throughout the governor’s order, is following the guidelines in the Washington Ozaukee Health Department’s blueprint for reopening, Johnson said.

“The only thing we won’t be able to do is have group exercise, and we won’t be able to offer the majority of youth programs,” he said.

Riveredge Nature Center in the Town of Saukville is planning to reopen its visitor’s center on Tuesday, and small-group nature programs are expected to resume shortly after that.

Masses will be offered in person at St. John XXIII Catholic Parish again beginning May 30, but there will only be three Masses, not four, every weekend and participation will be limited to 25%. Parishioners will have to make a reservation to attend Mass, with dates determined by the first letter of their last name.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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