Empower Wisconsin | May 12, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Good news, small retailers: Gov. Tony Evers thinks you’re “deserving” of re-opening — but you can only welcome five customers at a time.
Throwing a few more crumbs at the businesses he’s slowly killing with his administration’s COVID-19 lockdown orders, the governor on Monday announced he would allow in-person retail at standalone or strip mall-based retail stores “with an entrance or entrances to the outside.” Such stores could only serve up to five patrons at a time; any more would have to wait in line outside.
The order also permits the state’s nine drive-in movie theaters to re-open, under certain restrictions.
This sweetheart deal doesn’t apply to stores that exclusively rely on mall or interconnected passage entrances.
Asked how he and his team landed on the number five, Evers really couldn’t say. At least he mangled his response to the question so badly it was difficult to find an answer in it. In short, why are stores like Target, Walmart and Menards allowed to serve considerably more customers than the smaller retailers.
“‘Cause the retail stores we’re talking about are a smidgeon of the size of Walmart and Menards,” the Democrat said at a press conference Monday. The decision, he added, is “based upon small businesses, Main Street businesses, businesses that have not been open for several weeks.”
“We think they are deserving and have less risk than other stores. That’s why we chose them,” Evers said.
Deserving? After deciding what businesses are “nonessential,” Team Evers now believes it has the power to determine which stores are “deserving.” They are the chosen ones, under Tony’s rule.
That’s not sitting well with a lot of Wisconsin small retailers, business owners who have had to keep their doors closed while big box stores have remained open, serving many more than five patrons at a time.
“I think this is bigger than the virus. It’s about our rights,” said Heather Siegel, who owns a retail shop with her husband in Waukesha. “They can pick the winners, and the winners are big box stores and the losers are little box stores.”
Siegel attended last month’s rally at the Capitol, wearing a sandwich board sign that said, “Don’t Kill My Business. Open Wisconsin.”
Mega retailers such as Target and Walmart get a break in part because they’re considered part of the essential grocery-supermarket trade.
Siegel’s son, Luke, has had to be more involved in the family business as his father is sidelined with “excruciating pain,” awaiting a surgery that Team Evers considers “elective.”
“It’s truly disgusting to see so many people’s liberties taken right out of their hand,” Luke Siegel said.
But the governor believes five people is a “reasonable approach.”
“If there’s more, all they have to do is set up the procedure to make it happen by waiting outside until somebody leaves,” Evers said. Easy Peasy. Just have the excess customers line up six feet apart, like the old Soviet Union bread lines — but with social distancing.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said, “It’s another day and another confusing emergency order.”
“We’ve flattened the curve by being careful and using common sense. With more testing, we’re seeing a smaller percentage of positive cases. This shutdown has put half a million people out of work. It’s time to get everyone back to work in every part of the state,” Vos said.
State Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) said Evers’ policy makes no sense.
“Large retailers like Kohl’s can clearly accommodate more customers than a small retail store and this state-wide policy of five customers maximum makes no distinction to recognize this clear difference,” Stroebel said in a statement. “This haphazard approach has kept our entire state shut down for far too long … It is time for the big government Evers’ administration to back off and allow Wisconsin residents the ability exercise some of the freedom and liberties we expect in our democratic republic.”
Missy Hughes, secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., said the new order could impact 14,500 small retail businesses, which “brings about 90,000 jobs back on market.” Does it really? When? The small businesses had no notice of the change, per usual. And it is highly unlikely that the retailers would bring back all of their employees to serve a handful of customers at a time.
For many other Wisconsin businesses, it’s all too little too late.
“It is with heavy hearts and warm memories, that we, here at the Carlin Club Restaurant have made the difficult decision not to reopen. Covid-19 has dealt us an unrecoverable financial blow,” Dawn and Don Carlin, sister-brother chefs and owners of the Presque, Isle restaurant in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, posted on their Facebook page.