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Iconic New Glarus biergarten shut down through summer; health concerns cited

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NEW GLARUS (WKOW) - An iconic biergarten in southern Wisconsin will remain closed through summer, as bars elsewhere reopen with the state supreme court's invalidation of the governor's Safer At Home order.

New Glarus Brewing Company President Deb Carey says the closure of the property's biergarten since the order's implementation in March has affected the brewery's revenue. "It's a huge financial hit," Carey tells 27 News.

"A slow day, fifteen hundred (visitors), a busy day, five to six thousand people at a time," Carey says of bier garden and tasting room counts.

But Carey says she's kept all her one hundred twenty staff members working , as the brewery's production of its signature Spotted Cow and other varieties continue, with grocery and liquor store destinations. Carey tells 27 News trying to manage the health of those workers and hundreds of visitors is unwise and an ambience-killer.

"Trying to track people through the beer depot and all those things, frankly, why people come here is to relax," Carey says. "I'm not going to walk around with a yard stick, 'Hey, you're not six feet apart. Where's your mask?'

The closure of the brewery to tours and visitors is likely to have a financial impact on New Glarus' many restaurants, bars, shops and businesses, as the spill over of brewery customers swells the village's stores and eateries.

"It'll be a hit," says Toffler's Pub & Grill owner Steve Longo.

Carey says the village's long-standing draw due to its charm and celebration of the Swiss culture should carry it. Longo's not certain.

"This is Little Switzerland. We have festivals, Swiss food, Swiss culture for our tourism. But truth be told, it's mostly the brewery that brings people," Longo maintains.

"They send, I would say as many or more than one thousand people through our restaurant a month, and I'm not going to have those people," Longo says.

"New Glarus has a pretty vibrant tourism history," Carey says. "Places to eat, all sorts of adorable shops. I think they're going to do just fine," she says.

New Glarus restauranteur Kristi Lopez says her fine dining establishment will possibly suffer financially from losing spin off business from the brewery. But Lopez says she understands Carey's approach.

"I respect her decision," Lopez says.

Even Longo concedes Carey's health calculation in assessing the safety of operating the bier garten is commendable. "I think it was the right thing to do," Longo says.

Even the possibility of Carey opening the biergarten before the end of the month was foreclosed when Green County's Health Officer RoAnn Warden joined several other counties in adopting a county rule consistent with the terms of the governor's court-discarded order. In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, that order requires restaurants, bars, breweries to remain closed until May 26, with only curb side and delivery sales permitted.

A New Glarus businessman who asked for anonymity to shield himself from potential reprisal declined comment on the impact of the brewery's decision to keep its public portion closed. But he said instituting the equivalent of the governor's order even for another day just added to misery of small business. "It's devastating. People have saved their whole lives, their life savings, their retirement, potentially gone," he says. "The disease is going to be in every community even with businesses closed. If open, as it relates to the spread of the disease, no difference. This is wrong," he says.

Carey says conflict over the best approach to slowing the virus' spread while allowing economic activity troubles her. She tells Wisconsin's leaders she wants to be part of a solution, and would make an exception to barring visitors.

"I invite Representative (Assembly Speaker) Vos, Senator (Majority Leader) Fitzgerald and Governor Evers to come here and talk about it over a beer."

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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