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Wisconsin bars open after state Supreme Court strikes down "Safer-at-Home" Order

Some bars opened, some did not. The ones that didn't, said they will soon.

WISCONSIN, USA — The Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Governor Tony Evers' Safer-at-Home order Wednesday.

Following that announcement, the Tavern League of Wisconsin announced bars could re-open immediately.

Billy Baker thought that news would never come.

"It's good again," Baker said, sitting outside of Gas-Lite Food & Liquor near Ellsworth, Wisconsin. "That was a long two months. Dry."

He's called Gas-Lite his watering hole since 1970. As soon as he heard about the Supreme Court decision, Baker said he made his way over.

"Word gets around fast now with Facebook and new technology," Baker said. "So yeah, I stopped in for a while last night."

"I called my lawyer and said, 'is this real?'" Jay Oricchio said. Oricchio, the owner of Gas-Lite, was there at his bar Wednesday night too. He said he watched customers like Baker sit down at his bar for the first time in weeks.

"We got our PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) money to make payroll and brought our employees back," Oricchio said. "But that itself was set to run out - you only have so many days to spend it - and that was going to run out on June 8th."

Oricchio said curbside and to-go orders from his bar didn't make enough money to pay for everything. He said he was about to close down had the decision not come after June 8. 

Oricchio also said he knows that people have opinions about whether bars should be opening right now.

"You can stay home if that's what you feel," Oricchio said. "As far as me putting lives in danger by being open, I just don't see how it works. There's a bigger picture to this than just me being open. There's all the vendors that I have as a business. They're all suffering as well."

Just down the same road, Valley Bar & Grill in Prescott has yet to open. Owner Courtney Swanson said she and her husband bought the bar in January. They had about two months of normal business before they closed down due to COVID-19 in mid-March.

Swanson said she's in support of other bars re-opening and that she would have re-opened hers too, if it wasn't for the remodeling work they've been doing to account for social distancing space inside the restaurant.

"In a perfect world and we had everything in place, I believe we would have supported the rest of the bars and done it as well," Swanson said.

She said the announcement to close establishments came fast back in March, and that the Supreme Court's decision to re-open also took her by surprise on Wednesday. Swanson said she will wait for Pierce County to announce more guidelines before she opens again for good.

"Today we're scrambling to get pictures rehung and keg lights cleaned out and setting ourselves to be open," Swanson said.

Pierce County Administrative Coordinator Jason Matthys said the county is working to clear up guidelines soon. In a statement he said:

"We are hopeful to provide guidance to our communities by the end of day today or tomorrow. Our focus in this initiative is not punitive but rather to notify our community members and business owners that local health orders need to be followed for the safety and health of our citizens. If we realize that there is an increase in COVID-19 cases that result from business’s not following the health officer’s orders we may have no other alternative than to become more restrictive and institute local penalties."

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said in a Democratic radio address that he has been disappointed in the Court's decision. His statement is below:

"Hi, folks. Governor Tony Evers here.

As you may have heard, the State Supreme Court struck down Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order, effective immediately.

Until now, Wisconsin was in a pretty good place in our battle against COVID-19.

We had reached almost all our gating criteria, we had opened up small businesses across the state, putting folks back to work, and that was because of the good work of Wisconsinites across our state who banded together, stayed home, and stayed safe.

Now just because the Supreme Court says it’s okay to open, doesn’t mean the science does. Folks, deadly viruses don’t go away on their own and they don’t go away because the Supreme Court says so.

We cannot let this ruling undo all the work we have done and all the sacrifices Wisconsinites have made over these past few months. 

We need everyone to continue doing their part to keep our families, our neighbors, our healthcare providers, as well as our communities safe by continuing to stay safer at home, practice social distancing, and limit travel. 

I am disappointed in the Court’s decision, but our top priority has been and will remain doing what we can and what we have to do to protect the health and safety of the people of our state.

I hope you will join us in continuing to stay safe and stay home."

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