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Local businesses in Milwaukee reopen Friday with some restrictions

Posted at 9:53 PM, May 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-22 22:53:22-04

As we begin the Memorial Day holiday weekend, more businesses in the City of Milwaukee are open. Restaurants and bars are still the exception, only able to offer carry-out and delivery.

A much different scene tonight in the suburbs of Milwaukee, where bars and restaurants are now back open. On Friday at Mo’s Irish Pub in Wauwatosa, there was a steady stream of customers all day.

“We have 80 employees here, and have probably been able to keep about 10, but they’re all going to start coming back now,” said Johnny Vassallo, the owner of Mo’s Irish Pub. “It’s really great to be back in business, especially after having to close at our busiest time of year, St. Patrick’s Day.”

With dine-in customers returning, Vassallo says more safeguards are in place. Tables and barstools are further apart, there’s increased disinfecting throughout, there’s an online menu, and food is served on paper and plastic for now. Servers are wearing masks and gloves, and get their temperatures checked before work.

“I believe the curve’s been flattened, and we’ll mitigate this from here,” Vassallo said.

While at Mo’s Irish Pub, we met the Martinath family, who drove from Illinois to spend a day in the Milwaukee area. Their home state is still shut down.

“It feels really nice to be out in the world,” said Kayci Martinath.

“We’re happy to sit down for our first meal out of the house in about 2.5 months,” said Jeff Martinath. “We feel safe. I think it’s time to open up America.”

Ron Reinke of Oak Creek came for lunch.

“Mo’s does a great job,” he said. “We are loving being able to sit outside on the patio at a restaurant. We’ve missed this. We felt all along it was kind of a media-made pandemic, and we’re just glad to see it opened up again.”

Unlike the suburbs of Milwaukee County, restaurants and bars in the city of Milwaukee are still only open for carry-out and delivery.

But gyms in Milwaukee proper can now reopen, with 10 members inside at any one time, and more cleaning in place.

“We’ve sectioned off our workout area to have 10 different stations that are 10 feet by 10 feet,” said Wade Ritchie, the owner of F45 Training on Downer Avenue on Milwaukee’s east side. “Each member will be assigned to one of those stations, and all of their equipment will be placed in it ahead of time, so there is no transfer of equipment form person to person. They’ll be given disinfectant, but we’ll also disinfect between every class. We put in longer gaps between classes to clean the entire space.”

F45 Training will also be doing temperature checks at the door. Ritchie is thankful to have loyal gym members, but says it’s still going to be an uphill battle to build back his bottom line.

“We definitely took a big financial hit,” Ritchie said. “Nothing is going to offset the cost of all this for us. But at this point, we just want to make sure everyone is safe.”

And retail stores in the city of Milwaukee can open up at 25 percent capacity.

That’s big for Mainstream and Access Boutiques in the Third Ward. Owner Jeanette Dvorak says the small business loan she received didn’t go very far.

“My rent is several thousand dollars a month, so it didn’t even cover two months of rent, not to mention other expenses that continued while we had to shut down.”

Her hope is that more customers start to feel more comfortable shopping in-person, with increased safety measures.

“We have a sanitizing station when you walk in,” Dvorak said. “We’re only allowing five people in the store at one time, and we are steaming items after people try them on.”

Whether more people will come, remains to be seen.

“Sure, it’s a holiday weekend, but in the city of Milwaukee all the hotels and restaurants are not really open yet, and that’s where a lot of our traffic downtown is driven from,” Dvorak said. “There aren’t many travelers or visitors right now.”

Like many independent shops, Dvorak is still offering a virtual shopping experience, one-on-one in-store styling appointments, and curbside pick-up.

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