Uncertainty hangs over businesses after 'Safer at Home' order extended

Posted at 7:36 PM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-17 20:36:48-04

Southeast Wisconsin businesses are scrambling to stay afloat after learning the safer at home order will extend until May 26.

The order was put in place late March to slow the spread of COVID-19. It was initially set to expire on April 24.

Hotels are allowed to stay open, but many have closed.

Cedarburg's Washington House Inn is among those closed.

"I am missing being in the hospitality business," said Innkeeper Wendy Porterfield.

Porterfield has been the innkeeper here for 35 years.

"I checked out the last guest on March 22, was when we decided it was time to close the doors. It's definitely been a hit to our revenue," said Porterfield.

Wendy planned to reopen in May, but since the "Safer at Home" order was extended another month, she pushed it back until June.

"It just isn't the right time to reopen. I think it was the right decision," said Porterfield.

"We totally are supportive of anything for safety measures; however, we thought that that might be a pretty long extension. It will definitely cause a lot more pain in our industry," said Trisha Pugal, interim CEO of the Wisconsin Hotel and Lodging Association.

Pugal says a recent survey shows about 45 percent of properties are already closed.

"The ones that remain are extremely low occupancy, which puts them on the borderline of why they should stay open or whether they should close because they are not making money right now," said Pugal.

"I'm hearing a lot of very very difficult decisions, pairing back in any possible expense that they can just to stay afloat, trying to figure out how they can last longer. They are very, very difficult decisions."

Porterfield remains optimistic the inn will survive.

"The building was built in 1884. It'll stand long after all of us are gone. It's a viable business, and we'll be here later when things are better," said Porterfield.

Thursday's announcement was another blow to several industries.

Salon Brillare in Pewaukee closed March 20. Owner Janet D'Amato was devastated to hear the expiration date moved to May 26.

"This is really, really just eating me up alive inside," said D'Amato.

The empty chairs at her salon are a stark reminder the cashflow has stopped.

"In the salon, we have 20 small businesses, and it's not just about me, and it's not just about my salon. It's about 20 other individuals that are hurting and struggling," said D'Amato.

"Many of them are single moms who don't have another backup income."

D'Amato is frustrated. They had safety protocols in place before they had to close, including limiting people in the salon and extra-cleaning.

Also, D'Amato says she and the stylists are unable to qualify for any financial assistance, and rent is still due.

"Based on the way that our salon is set up with these independent contractors instead of employees, we are sadly slipping through the cracks," said D'Amato.

"That's really what's hurting is figuring out who gets helped, who hasn't, and how to help all of them because the fear is that you're going to lose a lot of small firms over the next few weeks," said Mark Kass, Editor at the Milwaukee Business Journal.

He says people in the business community across all industries were not expecting the "Safer at Home" extension to last another month. Even though the state has said it could end sooner, the toughest punch is the surmounting uncertainty.

"Nobody knows really no one knows what's going to open on May 26. Maybe they open earlier than that, maybe it goes into June but how do you plan for not knowing," said Kass.

D'Amato plans to push ahead. She is confident that if allowed, her team can get back to work sooner and safely.

"I can't let it close. I wouldn't be able to live with myself," said D'Amato.

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip

Coronavirus in Wisconsin

More data on Wisconsin's vaccination progress here.

Find a vaccination site here.

Check out county-by-county coronavirus case numbers here.

More information: COVID-19 on the Wisconsin DHS website

Latest news and headlines here.