How businesses are slowly starting to reopen post-Safer at Home


B.C. Kowalski

Dr. Marco Araujo and Anne Ivaska are opening a pair of clinics, and business starts to pick up following the ending of the Safer at Home order.

Later this spring, when other businesses were closed and wondering how they would keep their businesses afloat in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, Anne Ivaska and Dr. Marco Araujo were looking at spaces in the City Square office building on Scott Street. 

Ivaska, a former nurse practitioner, is starting a testosterone clinic helping men who have trouble with low levels of the male hormone. And Araujo is planning on opening a clinic offering stem cell therapy. The therapy is on the cutting edge of science and for both clinics, nothing quite like them exists in central Wisconsin currently.

That the shutdown of the state because of the Coronavirus pandemic had a huge impact on businesses is no surprise. One way to measure the impact – tax revenues. The Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that tax collections are down $380 million from the previous year so far, and down $66 million in May alone from the previous May. 

Araujo points out that many clinics have been closed to patients or not seeing them since people were forgoing treatments during the coronavirus. Some employed telemedicine, Ivaska points out, but telemedicine can only go so far. Sometimes you just need to see someone.

So Ivaska and Araujo think it’s the perfect time to start a pair of clinics, especially those with unique services not otherwise found around here. With the opening of both clinics planned for July, Araujo thinks there is an advantage in getting started while businesses are starting to open back up. 

That opening has come much more slowly than many people predicted. The Safer at Home order, first instituted by Gov. Evers and extended by the Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palmer, was nullified by a state Supreme Court ruling on May 13. The opening was made immediate by the court, ignoring a request by Republicans who brought forth the challenge to give lawmakers a week to design a plan for getting businesses back to business. 

But many businesses didn’t treat it that way. While some businesses were open immediately the Thursday following the Supreme Court’s ruling, many more remained closed that day and for some time afterward. Many stores in the mall remained closed for several weeks before finally opening. And some stores, such as Victoria’s Secret, will stay closed. And even those that have since opened are operating differently. Whitewater Music Hall opened with exclusively outdoor seating, and was just given preliminary approval to hold music and fire pits in its outdoor seating area. Others have limited indoor space, and some, such as The Milk Merchant, are still sticking to curbside pickup. Owner Mary Gallagher says since experience is such a big part of the shopping experience — sampling cheese, tasting oils and vinegars, etc — it just makes sense to stick with curbside for now. 

It’s all to suggest the economic recovery from the Coronavirus might be slower than initially thought, even without a state order in place. 

A slow reopen 

Owner Tyler Vogt shut down Malarkey’s Pub and Townies Bar and Grill a day before the state ordered non-essential businesses be shut down in Wisconsin. His was one of the many that remained closed on May 26, when the Supreme Court rendered void the Safer at Home order. 

It’s pretty simple to understand why businesses, especially bars and restaurants, took their time re-opening, and it even goes beyond Coronavirus concerns (though reopening safely was a factor for many). Those businesses have been closed for two months, and no one had food or alcohol on hand, Vogt explains. With the sudden reopening, demand from food and beverage distributors suddenly skyrocketed with everyone scrambling to get orders in and get them filled. 

Not only that, Vogt explains, but employees weren’t necessarily just ready to come back to work right away. “We usually give our employees two weeks notice at least on their schedules,” Vogt told City Pages. And microbreweries making the beer that Malarkey’s serves slowed or even completely stopped production. Beer takes time to produce, so there’s a delay while breweries ramp up production and get back on schedule. “I have 15 of 16 taps filled right now, but that wasn’t the case a week ago.” 

How many are doing business is changing. Townies opened back up about a week ago. Vogt says they will focus more on the restaurant side of the business. They have outdoor seating, plan to take advantage of the Wausau River District’s Dining on the Street Program, and have set up a system to use carryout. Townies is even looking into doing deliveries, possibly inhouse as opposed to using a service such as EatStreet or Bite Squad.

Service is also different at Inner Sleeve Records. Owner Mike Capista says he shut down the business a few days before the order came through. He opened back up the day the state eased Safer at Home restrictions allowing for businesses to do curbside pickup. 

As far as opening up the store to customers actually coming in, it took Capista some time to get used to the idea. Unlike larger stores that could easily accommodate 10 people as was the limit then, 10 inside Inner Sleeve would have been crowded even before social distancing practices. 

As it stands now, Capista requires a mask and use of hand sanitizer to come in and limits the amount of customers who can be in the store at one time. Capista says he’s not afraid to tell customers he’s ful. Most customers have been understanding of the rules. 

Capista says June will be the first full month of being open, so it will give him a gauge of how far down his sales are. But that they are down is something he’s pretty certain of. “Some stores might be up, but not me,” Capista told City Pages. “Some businesses are doing great. Target is almost double. But I don’t see that with the little stores.” 

But one thing that has helped — deliveries have been pretty slow from many retailers during the coronavirus, so many are starting to come back because they can just walk into the store and buy the record they want, versus waiting weeks to have it delivered, Capista says. 

Wausau River District Executive Director Blake Opal-Wahoske told City Pages that he plans to send out a follow up survey in the next couple of weeks; that survey will follow up a survey the district sent out toward the start of the shutdown showing more than half of the businesses in the Wausau River District would shut down if the shutdown lasted five months or more. The survey will find out how much those statistics have changed since the state has opened up.

Opal-Wahoske says the survey should be completed by July 13. 

Opening decisions

Mike Masgay already had curbside in place at Tine and Cellar when the order to open up happened, so it wasn’t much of a transition to get the restaurant open to customers following the ending of the state’s order. That Friday Masgay had the outdoor patio and limited seating inside opened up to the public. 

People were a tad hesitant the first couple of days, but then customers started coming in with some regularity, Masgay told City Pages. Business isn’t fully recovered — Masgay says sales are about 70% of what they normally would be this time of year, which is better than many could have expected. At Mikey’s in Plover, it’s at about 50%. 

On the downside, Masgay says he hasn’t been able to open A-Soshel in Point, because of lack of available employees. It’s a combination of not having students around and people having different sensitivities about the Coronavirus, Masgay told City Pages. 

The Coronavirus tested businesses cash reserves, Masgay says. Everyone was burning through reserve cash during the shutdown while attempting to stay afloat. And programs like the Payroll Protection Program helped, though they weren’t terribly efficient and often overwhelmed by the volumes of folks applying for them. “It’s not fun to shovel cash into the furnace every day,” Masgay says. 

Others stayed closed and are still operating curbside. Dion Starck, Owner of October Guitars, says he has felt more comfortable limiting his store to curbside pickup and online ordering, and he has a healthy enough customer base to continue to do so. And Gallagher told City Pages she is keeping The Milk Merchant afloat through curbside pickup, which she has now expanded into three days per week.

Starting clinics in a pandemic 

Araujo believes his clinic is on the cutting edge of medical science. Stem cell therapy isn’t as accepted in the U.S. as it is in other countries and many celebrities like Joe Rogan talk about getting the surgery outside of America. It’s not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so insurance doesn’t cover it. But an injection of stem cells can help heal plenty of injuries such as rotator cuffs, ACLs and others. 

Araujo is a pain specialist and board certified anesthesiologist who trained at Harvard Medical School, and is originally from Brazil. He has had pain clinics in Iowa and Green Bay before moving to Wausau. 

Ivaska worked as a nurse for a number of years and later as a nurse practitioner with a masters degree. Over time, she noticed there was a lack of clinics specializing in male health. After the age of 30, levels of testosterone can become low, Ivaska says, which can lead to lower athletic performance and lower sex drive. Most people don’t know that men have a version of menopause called andropause, she explains. It can also lead to muscle loss, bone loss, headaches, and other symptoms. 

It helps that both clinics have a relatively low overhead for business in the health field. Unlike surgery, which would require a great degree of specialized equipment, stem cell therapy only requires a pretty simple office setup, Araujo explains. And the same goes for the male health clinic. 

And having their own clinics mean less red tape to jump through. They can simply do what is best for their patients, Ivaska explains. And not being in a hospital setting will likely make people more comfortable, with fewer concerns about Coronavirus contraction. “I have this bias, but I think it might be the perfect time to start a clinic,” Araujo told City Pages.

Araujo and Ivaska might not be the only folks in the Wausau area looking at opening businesses soon, despite the Coronavirus and the concerns it brings. Compass Properties Manager Mark Craig says he’s signed six new leases in the City Square office building in the past six weeks, with a seventh being worked on right now. And he’s had a lease in the Gateway building, and has shown two retails spots in the Third Street Lifestyle Center recently. 

“Activity is slowly picking up,” Craig says.