It’s a sun-drenched warm and windy day with a bed of red, pink and yellow flowers dotting the sidewalk along Highway 51 in downtown Stoughton.
If someone peeks into the window, the Norwegian flag and souvenirs can be seen at Nordic Nook. The customers are not flowing out the door with bags in hand waiting to get in.
Despite shifting to Phase 2 in the Forward Dane plan on Monday, June 15, for reopening the county during the COVID-19 pandemic, many store owners say they still aren’t busy and the increase to 50% capacity hasn’t had much effect. Instead, they still see the threat of the killer respiratory disease that has tanked tourism this summer with the Livsreise Norwegian Heritage Center still closed.
Patrice Roe, who has owned Nordic Nook for about 20 years, said it’s been slow for shoppers returning downtown.
“No Syttende Mai was bad and we partnered a lot with the Heritage Center,” Roe said. “We’ve got loyal Stoughton customers. People into the Norweigan (culture and history) usually flock to Stoughton. The class reunion and family reunions also are not happening.”
A shutdown in tourism and the construction of Highway 51 are two obstacles in addition to COVID-19 slowing businesses.
Brook Johnson, owner of Green Road Pottery and Yahara Chocolate, said his business is probably down 75%.
“Really having tourists come on Fridays and Saturdays are a really big part of my business,” Johnson said. “For most of the specialty stores downtown it’s more about consumer confidence. It’s not about the phases.”
Confidence in her business in the summer has never been a problem for Roe whose Scandinavian shop is a popular stop for many during Syttende Mai before this year’s festival was canceled for the first time ever.
Roe has switched to limited hours 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Like her store and most downtown, she recommends customers wear face masks.
“We are kind of winging it,” Roe said of her shop’s hours.
Roe said it hasn’t been a noticeable difference with people shopping downtown during Phase 2.
“I think people are just starting to come out,” she said. “I’m hoping as time goes on people will feel more comfortable.”
Two weeks before Syttende Mai, she was allowed to offer curbside service.
Roe said her concern is not so much reaching max capacity for her Norwegian speciality shop, but having the public return to a sense of safety.
“It’s not so much the number in the stores it’s just giving people a sense they can come out,” she said. “It’s probably safer to be shopping here than Walmart and other bigger stores.”
Nordic Nook isn’t the only business that has had to adapt. Level Up Fitness went from a 24-hour fitness center to one by appointment only during Phase 1.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Level Up Fitness co-owner Mike Wendorf said some members requested a membership freeze on expenses, others have dropped memberships and some have signed up once the fitness center got the approval to reopen.
“It’s a luxury for people who want to have a gym membership,” Wendorf said.
Level Up Fitness went from staff only appointments in Phase 1 of the Forward Dane reopening to 24-hour service in Phase 2.
Wendorf said in Phase I he wanted to keep up with the cleaning and disinfecting so that is why he limited usage of the gym to appointments with staff personnel.
“Without the hours we had to squeeze in staff hours with more time between them,” he said.
The youth strength and conditioning eight to 10 week camps for high school athletes are still being offered, but Wendorf said the groups are being limited to six to eight participants.
Level Up Fitness does offer individual training sessions with a trainer.
With the ability to get back to a 24-hour service at 50% capacity, Wendorf is excited to see what’s in store for his business. However, the timing may not tell the whole financial picture.
“We will find out the true numbers come September,” he said.
Wendorf said most people steer away from gym usage in the warmer months in the summer and find fitness options outside.
During the COVID-19 crisis, while many gyms and fitness centers were closed, the down time away from the bench press, squats and dumbbell curls has led some to jump in head-first.
That’s what happened to Stoughton Hairstyling owner Karla Everson-Zentmire.
Everson-Zentmire has worked 25 straight days catching up on haircuts.
She said the biggest change in Phase 2 was they could allow more customers into Stoughton Hairstyling and could staff shifts more. The hair styling salon still can’t use its reception area and they still use masks or shields while giving haircuts.
“We are all putting in a lot of hours because we can’t do the customer pace we normally do,” she said.
Offering a haircut is still prohibited between a hair coloring.
“We are spreading people out more and doing almost no blow drying other than the people that have to have it styled that way because that can spread. “We are getting used to the new normal.”