Baraboo pushes to keep wine glasses full

Baraboo pushes to keep wine glasses full

Twice a year, businesses in downtown Baraboo invites customers to join them for a wine walk, a fundraiser that both raises money for charities and shows off local merchandise. But residents are worried that their glasses will soon be empty.

In April, language in the Department of Revenue’s handbook made it appear that wine walks, where customers purchase tickets and are served wine at various businesses, are illegal. Many other communities that hold these types of walks, like Middleton, the Wisconsin Dells and Reedsburg are affected as well.

“We thought that we had been following the law,” said Baraboo City Administrator Ed Geick. “Now it appears from their latest bulletin that wine walks are generally banned all together.”

Todd Wickus, president of downtown Baraboo and owner of Just Imagine Toys, a store that has participated in the wine walks since their beginning in 2007, said the wine walks give businesses a unique way to connect to customers.

“We’re able to relate to them on a different level. We’re able to talk to them, and they’re able to spend some time in here in a lesiurley fashion,” said Wickus. “Also we’re getting a lot of new customers that have never been here before because people bring friends.”

Wickus said if Baraboo could no longer have wine walks, it would leave the city feeling empty. He said a large portion of the downtown’s revenue comes from these walks, which goes into more events and has an impact on the economy.

“It would have a great impact on our origination in our efforts to keep the downtown vibrant and alive and healthy,” said Wickus.

“Our downtown is thriving,” said Geick. “Almost all of our storefronts are active and working. We have a lot of positive attitude downtown and (wine walks) are part of it.”

For the past several years, these downtown businesses have operated using picnic licenses, which they apply for and temporarily allow them to serve alcohol.  But the recent messages from the Department of Revenue have city officials unsure of the walks’ future.

“It shouldn’t be a conflict but they seem to be still with that position that you can’t have them, for whatever reason,” said Geick.

“I’d say about 99.99 percent are in favor of the wine walks,” said Wickus. “They’re a little confused as to why there’s a problem.”

Geick and Wickus said the worry that people under 21 might enter in the stores while alcohol is served should not be an issue. According to them, the wine cannot be taken out of the store and merchants follow all regulations to prevent people from drinking underage, much like a bar. 

“We do check IDs and some people enjoy that and some people don’t,” said Wickus

Despite the legal uncertainty, Wickus still sees the glass as half full. Business owners have created a “Save the Wine Walks” campaign, and are working with state representatives to create legislation that would make wine walks legal.

“I believe there’s enough support where we can create something that will work for our communities.” said Wickus. “Not just Baraboo but many other communities as well.”