Despite state lockdown, Illinois tourists head to Lake Geneva

Posted at 8:25 AM, May 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-16 09:25:35-04

Wisconsin municipalities without local safer at home orders are drawing in tourists from across state lines — including those coming from Illinois to Lake Geneva.

On Friday afternoon, the City of Lake Geneva saw dozens of people walking around, shopping and dining out. Many shops and restaurants opened their doors, with others posting signs saying they would open soon.

"Feels good," said Randy Jeske of McHenry, Ill. "It's sort of being back to normal."

Like many other Wisconsin areas, Lake Geneva does not have a local safer at home order. The City of Lake Geneva is encouraging people and businesses to follow guidelines provided by the Walworth County Public Health Department.

Now, Illinois tourists are driving over the border to take advantage of open businesses.

"This is my first time eating out in three months," said Shane McNamara of Elgin, Ill. He said he plans to enjoy the weekend and support small businesses.

As of Friday, Illinois has 90,369 COVID-19 cases and remains under a safer at home order.

The Centers for Disease Control, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Illinois Department of Public Health each recommend avoiding non-essential travel.

Lake Geneva businesses depend heavily on tourism, especially from other states like Illinois. Visit Lake Geneva CEO and President Stephanie Klett says tourism in Lake Geneva and Walworth County is a $565 million industry that employs about 7,700.

"The months of March, April and May, it was really like a bomb went off," Klett said. "We were down anywhere from 70 to 90 percent."

She noted many businesses are making changes to better protect their customers.

"We're very concerned about the safety of our customers, and we've put in a lot of procedures to make sure the customers are safe, but you know, I'm ready to move forward," said Bruce Bennett, the owner of the Cornerstone Shop.

Bennett says he's limiting the number of customers in his shop, cleaning the products they use or try on, and offering free masks. Employees are required to wear masks.

Other shops are following similar guidelines.

At Jayne, managers say they notice customers being more careful.

"I guess people are hestitant a little bit, just being cautious, but people are more so excited to be shopping again," said Sara Matthews.

Restaurants like Harborside Pub and Grill are spacing out tables and requiring employees to wear masks.

"People are pretty sharp, and they’ll know how to deal with it, people have learned a lot through this," said Harborside owner Spyro Condos.

For many visitors and business owners, the desire to get back to the economy outweighs any health hesitations.

"I plan to come up here on my days off and continue to until Illinois opens up," McNamara said.

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