M.D. Kittle, MADISON — While Gov. Tony Evers insists he’s protecting Wisconsin from a deadly virus, Badger State bar and restaurant owners say the executive’s new emergency order will kill business.
“It’s mostly the little local businesses, they are the ones that are going to suffer the most,” Armando Perez, owner of the Rock & Roll Cafe in Stevens Point told Wisconsin Spotlight.
The restaurant seats 50 customers. After Evers’ Emergency Order #3 goes into effect this week, he’ll be allowed to seat 12.
“It’s going to kill my dine-in business,” said Perez, who has owned the cafe on Stevens Point’s Stanley Street for six years.
On Tuesday, the governor announced his latest emergency health order, which restricts capacity in public places to 25 percent. Evers insists his Department of Health Services took the latest restrictive step to deal with rising COVID-19 cases and virus-related hospitalizations in the state.
GOP legislative leaders moved to stop implementation of an order they say is unenforceable. They assert Evers’ health secretary must first promulgate a rule and get approval from the Legislature’s joint rule-making committee. Controlled by Republicans, approval is unlikely. It appeared Wednesday night the Evers administration was going to push ahead with the restrictions.
That’s bad news for restaurant owners like Jose Suarez.
“They want to kill my business completely,” said Suarez, owner of Dave’s Restaurant in Waukesha.
Suarez said the little eatery, already hit hard by the pandemic, would be down to serving just four tables under Evers’ new capacity restrictions. He has four employees. He can’t imagine laying off anyone, but he knows he’ll have to cut hours.
Perez will have to make the even harder decision.
“I just hired four girls. Now I’m going to have to fire them,” the Stevens Point restaurant owner said. “I’m not going to be able to have dine-in so it doesn’t pay for me or for them with no customers.”
It all has a destructive ripple effect. When you take away 75 percent of customer base, you take a big bite out of sales. There’s much less money to pay for supplies, rent, employees. That’s less money going back into the community, hurting other businesses and employees along the way.
“The governor’s mandate will have a devastating impact on the financial stability of thousands of small businesses,” Bill Smith, National Federation of Independent Business director in Wisconsin, said in a statement. “The overreaching order will not only result in a loss of jobs for those employed by small business but set Wisconsin’s economy backwards.”
Wisconsin saw its economic output decline by nearly one-third in the second quarter — between April and June. Nationwide, GDP dropped by 31.4 percent in the second quarter.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report shows accommodation and food services decreased 88.4 percent nationally and contributed to the decreases in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Things could get a whole lot worse under Evers’ stricter capacity limits.
In Dane County, the song remains the same for bars and restaurants that have been forced to live under 25 percent capacity for several months. Dane County’s iron-fisted health department has pushed much more restrictive health orders than many other parts of the state, and businesses are feeling the effects.
“This is nothing new for us,” said David Montag, owner of Montag’s Pub & Grill in Cross Plains.
Montag, who took over ownership in July, has only operated in a COVID business climate. He said business has been pretty good, thanks in large part to community support and a greater focus on the food service portion of the business. Other business owners have said the same, noting carryout has been the saving grace that has kept their restaurants open.
Perez suggests the government should take 75 percent less in taxes if he’s going to be forced to be limited to 25 percent business.
“But the taxes, they never go down, they go up,” he said.
The restaurant owner said all he can do is trust in God and hope things improve. He said locking down life is not the answer.
“Unfortunately, we’re going to get sick. But we can’t Iive in a bubble. It’s impossible,” he said.