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Owner of Tommy Bartlett Show reflects after nearly 70 years of water shows

Posted at 6:17 PM, Sep 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-20 13:52:41-04

WISCONSIN DELLS — One of the Dells most iconic attractions, the Tommy Bartlett Show, is closing for good. After nearly 70 years and 18,000 water shows, the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic were just too much.

Owner Tom Diehl didn’t put on any water shows this summer because of the pandemic. Wednesday morning, he announced the show was ending permanently because the current and future economic impacts were insurmountable.

"When you have a business model where you have to have 2,500 in this stadium every single day for 100 straight days, it wasn’t going to happen this summer," Diehl said.

Tommy Bartlett needs to put around 2,000 to 2,500 people in its seats for 100 straight days to be successful. In the age of social distancing, that's not possible.

Normally they would make around $3 million in the summer. However there were no shows this year, so there was barely any money coming in.

"We're going to have some problems in this fall and spring because this is normally when meetings and conventions pickup, and, you know, that's not going to happen," he said.

Owner Tom Diehl has worked at Tommy Bartlett his entire life. He said this isn't how he expected the run to end, but it was a necessary decision to make.

The Tommy Bartlett show became a fixture in the dells back in 1952. There have been around 18,700 shows, they have performed at worlds fairs, and became a Wisconsin family tradition.

"Honestly I'm very devastated in the future. I was hoping to potentially bring my future kids to it its just such a fond memory that I have as a kid," Merije Ajvazi, the owner of Summer House, a restaurant not far from Tommy Bartlett.

Diehl hopes another event-type company buys the ampitheather so the space can continue its legacy of magical performances.

They are selling their property including the amphitheater, but the Exploratory Science Center will still be open all year round. Two years ago, they renovated the Exploratory Center, and now hope that begins to draw more people in.

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