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Closing my Brewpub for the Season: A Shared Casualty of Failed Leadership

Kirk Bangstad

Hey folks,

I’m writing to you from my couch after closing down the Minocqua Brewing Company, my brewpub, for the season.

Here is my testimonial to what can happen to a small business under failed federal and state leadership:

I have never closed the brewpub during the offseason before, and MBC was one of the mainstays of entertainment and culture in this tourist town during the offseason when other businesses closed up. 

We had live music every weekend and hosted the very popular “Science on Tap,” a monthly program where UW-Madison professors would give talks about science to an audience hungry for education.  We hosted a monthly documentary series on our big screen about climate change, and had monthly multi-course beer/wine dinners that the locals loved. 

I personally directed beer choir twice a month (people gathered to drink beer and sing drinking songs of course), and sang classical/jazz/musical theater concerts from time to time. We had a blast at the brewery.

Of course all of that changed on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, when we were abruptly told to close our doors due to Covid’s rapid spread in Wisconsin.  We had a sold-out beer pairing dinner that night, and I was going to sing a bunch of Irish tunes including Danny Boy.

We raced and changed our entire restaurant in a week to deliver gourmet sandwiches from a newly-created online menu, a niche we hoped could keep the money flowing until the pandemic was under control.  We applied and received a PPP loan thanks to the bipartisan CARES act which saved so many businesses at that time and kept Americans afloat with boosted unemployment benefits.

Those two months, although painful because we all stayed at home most of the time, felt like America was on the same team.  We all worked together to “flatten the curve” so hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed.  I even created a fundraiser called “#customerx” that raised approximately $15K to pay local restaurants to deliver lunch to essential workers and the increased ranks of the food insecure.  I LOVED how our community came together at that time to help each other.

Then summer started approaching, and businesses understandably started freaking out about not being able to open because we all make the lion’s share of our revenue during the summer tourist season.  This is when Trump’s rhetoric started tearing our community apart.  Even while Covid cases and deaths were still growing throughout the nation, he told Americans they had a choice:  Accept the rampant spread of Covid throughout our towns or watch our economy die and go broke.  And since he continuously downplayed the seriousness of Covid and his obsequious media partners trumpeted those lies, and because our Republican legislature spinelessly morphed into the “Party of Trump” in a craven attempt to hold onto power during election season, Wisconsin and my little town of Minocqua were divided into two camps that hated each other’s viewpoints even though we had embraced each other as a community just weeks before.  What a shame.

My business limped along, only serving food and drink outside, which was far less risky than serving indoors. I had hired 20 foreign employees to work for me over the summer—none of whom were allowed to come to the U.S. due to Covid.  We reduced our hours due to a lack of staff and made about a third of what we typically make in a normal summer.

But instead of controlling the pandemic like other countries had done, our country’s cases further spiraled out of control.  The Republican majority in Wisconsin sued our governor to open up Wisconsin without a plan, and Wisconsin’s cases exploded by late July, putting our state on a list that couldn’t go to other states without quarantining first.

We never were able to control the pandemic, which is continuing to destroy our economy.  This is the result of the false choice we were given months ago.  You can’t make your economy healthy without controlling the pandemic.  And SO MANY COUNTRIES have already bounced back because they’ve gotten the pandemic under control, which is proof that our weak economy is a direct result of disastrous leadership from Trump and our state Republican legislature, including my opponent Rob Swearingen. 

So now we’ve come full circle.  As of this writing, the Covid testing positivity rate is 8.7%.  What this means is that we are not testing enough in this part of the state and there are many more people walking around with Covid than our health department knows about.  Experts suggest we are WAY above the threshold to open schools safely, which convinced me that indoor dining is still unsafe—thus my decision to close the restaurant for the season.

Luckily we were able to save enough money to keep our building maintained and reopen healthily for next summer’s tourism season, but I’m heartbroken because I have to let go of my wonderful staff.

I’m sure my story is no different than thousands of others, but my reality convinced me months ago to run for office and try to do something to help myself, my community, and my state.  

Small businesses and my neighbors have been unnecessarily hurt by politicians who don’t care about us, but only care about their own power and getting reelected. This rampant refusal to govern by Trump and Wisconsin’s Republicans has hurt me personally and made me more empathetic to those hurting around me. 

Please join me in voting against everyone who hurt us on November 3.

Written by Kirk Bangstad on 09/05/20

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