Leave it to Evers: Too little, too late

MADISON — Dee and Mike Byrnes love their little watering hole, Mickey D’s Corner Bar in Dane, and the customers who frequent it.

Of course, they’ve seen a lot fewer customers over the past year, thanks to the pandemic, Gov. Tony Evers’ two-month lockdown, and Public Health Madison & Dane County’s business-killing COVID-19 restrictions.

It’s been a rough year. Evers closed down nonessential businesses in late March. Bars like Mickey D’s, forced to close in-person service a week earlier, didn’t make the “essential” cut. The public health department limited indoor capacity to 25 percent toward the end of May, then closed them down in July, with allowances for outdoor service with social distance requirements. As of Friday, restaurants in restrictive Dane County were operating at 50 percent indoor capacity, taverns at 25 percent.

Meanwhile, surrounding counties eased up on their restrictions long ago — and the businesses there have fared much better.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep afloat,” Dee Byrnes said, including applying for federally funded COVID-19 assistance. The bar has received nearly $20,000 in Paycheck Protection Payment loans, and a total of $7,500 in grants, Dee said.

Does the government funding make up for a year-plus of government-limited business?

“Oh, God, no!” Dee emphatically said. “We’re suffering.”

And the business owners are rapidly moving into retirement age. Dee is 62; Mike is 65. They bought the small town bar over a decade ago. It’s been a kind of second career for the couple.

Now, they’re looking at getting out. The bar is up for sale.

Dee says the business is still viable but it has been a very tough year. They had been doing quite well until the pandemic and the government restrictions hit.

Late last week, Evers announced he will use $420 million of the $3.2 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act to fund another grant program for small businesses. That means $5,000 to businesses that meet eligibility requirements.

It won’t be nearly enough for businesses like Mickey D’s Corner Bar. And it will be far too late for untold numbers of small businesses that have shut their doors for good over the past year.

“We love our business, our customers, our employees,” Dee said. “My husband said the other day, ‘If we sell it, what am I going to do?’”

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