HUDSON, WIS. – Minnesotans only have to look across the St. Croix River to see what a state-mandated “stay-at-home” order looks like.
For those still working in the few essential businesses allowed to remain open under Wisconsin’s restrictions, which went into effect Wednesday, the quiet main street felt eerie to those used to a bustling mix of locals and tourists. Cars still rolled down the main street, but few stopped.
Those who did parked briefly, as motorists grabbed a takeout meal or cup of coffee.
“It feels like a morgue,” said Pete Foster, who closed two of his three restaurants, leaving only Barker’s Bar & Grill open for takeout food — a service allowed when Wisconsin restaurants and bars were first ordered to close on March 17. Not every restaurant, however, was set up for such service, and nearly a dozen shut down.
Barker’s and those that remain open kept their kitchens on overdrive tending to the pickup food service. But on Wednesday — the day shelter-in-place took effect, business slowed dramatically.
Maybe it was the dreariness of a steady rain that kept people away. Maybe it was because people are more leery about leaving their homes, Foster said. Or, maybe people are confused about which businesses can remain open.
“My own father texted me because he didn’t know if I was open,” Foster said.
Along Hudson’s main street, most storefronts are dark — the boutiques, an antiques shop, assorted retailers, salons, a tattoo parlor. A few of their front-window signs, however, are still lit, advertising shoes at St. Croix Shoes and CBD at Healthy Solutions.
“Open” neon signs brightly light up some of the remaining businesses. In the St. Croix Cigar Co., an employee changed a light bulb in the empty store. A few customers had come in earlier. At Angel’s Pet World, seven rescue cats lounged in their enclosure while Miss B., the store cat, wandered about. Big Bird, the store’s resident green-winged macaw, stood outside its cage until manager Erica Johnson walked by.
“Love you,” Big Bird said as she passed. The macaw, however, was in no mood for his usual dancing.
“It’s like a ghost town,” said Chad Trainor, who owns Urban Olive & Vine with his wife, Carol. They count themselves among the fortunate who have been able to keep their doors open by offering takeout. And like other Hudson residents who are ordering grab-and-go food to keep local businesses afloat, Trainor picks up some of his meals at other restaurants.
“I’ve been to almost every restaurant [in a week’s time], including two or three I’ve never been to,” he said, walking in the door with two takeout meals from other businesses. “We need everyone to stay open and thrive. If there are 15 restaurants now and five don’t reopen, it won’t help any of us.”
The restaurants’ situation also could affect other businesses in the tourist river town. Some retailers, whose businesses feed off the dine-in and bar business, closed up shop after restaurants and bars were ordered closed last week.
“A few held on,” said Carol Trainor, pausing as she painted some trim in the front window. But when the stay-at-home order went into effect Wednesday, even the holdouts were forced to close.
Few can imagine what the future will look like for some of these businesses.
Jule Johnston, owner of Vintage Vogue Cottage, has already rented a locker to move her merchandise in case she has to move her business out.
“We’re struggling with paying the rent,” she said. “We can’t have a going-out-of-business sale because no one can be in here.”
After shutting her doors 10 days ago, Johnston needed to ease her boredom with some busy work, such as redoing front-window displays. “You can’t give up hope,” she said. “That’s important for people to remember.”
The drastic measures needed to stem the spread of COVID-19 have been devastating for so many.
“We’re a town of service workers,” said Justin Terbeest, who owns Hop & Barrel Brewery. “When [businesses] had to shut down, we had to say goodbye to our customers, friends and those who have become family. We didn’t know if they would have jobs again or if we would see them again.”
In Hudson, tourism and foot traffic drive business to his door as well as to those up and down the street. “It started out as a phenomenal year. Business was up 20 percent,” Terbeest said in his empty brewery. He now stays open, selling beer to go in growlers and cans and supplying liquor stores.
He knows the coronavirus sweeping the globe has upended lives and thrown the economy into chaos.
Despite the economic hardship, however, Terbeest believes it may be best to endure it rather than rush to reopen businesses, schools and events before the virus is contained. It’s a difficult balance, but it won’t benefit businesses by pushing their reopening if people are still too afraid to come out, he said.
“We need to heal,” he said.
Down the street at Dunn Brothers, manager Curtis Cavanaugh looked out the coffee shop’s front window and wondered why there were still even a few people out on the street.
“There’s a few who believe [the shutdown] is an overreaction. They’re very much a minority,” Cavanaugh said. “Part of me wishes they would come in here and the other part of me wants them to go home and be safe.”
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788