‘You can feel it’: Businesses adapt to new statewide capacity limits

PORTAGE, Wis. – For many in Wisconsin outside Dane County, a capacity limit of 25% is new, including in Portage.

“You can feel it,” Little Italy Ristorante owner Sam Aliju said.

Starting an Italian restaurant was a dream that became reality for Sam Aliju in December, 2019. Business was great until the pandemic hit and all restaurants had to shut down on March 17.

“It is tough,” Aliju said. “It is really tough.”

It’s tough, too, for shops like CBD American Shaman down the street, which has also been making changes to survive.

“We still had our rent. I still had my franchise fees. We still have our bills,” owner Nathan Griepentrog said. “We cut hours. We’ve cut times. We’ve cut customer employees.”

Griepentrog said the impending 25% capacity limit with the state’s newest order won’t mean much for the daily grind, when there are only a few visitors in the store at a time.

“But that’s going to hurt our marketing,” he said. “We do a lot of events. We do a lot of type of things to get out there in front of customers, to not only educate them, but for a lot of store owners, that’s where they make their money.”

“Everybody’s had to adapt to the pandemic, and really, taking this seriously,” said Cheryl Fahrner, the executive director of the Columbia County Economic Development Corporation. “We really need to get control of this situation.”

Fahrner said businesses must roll with the punches to stick around, and hopes grants announced by Governor Tony Evers will help. In the meantime, she asks community members to buy local.

“Businesses that have adapted are doing OK, holding their own, but of course, more restrictions – it hurts from time to time,” she said.

“I believe it’s for the purpose of health,” Aliju said, referring to the order. “Every decision is for good, but some people have to pay the circumstances.”

Aliju said restaurants like his are paying the price, worrying the capacity limits will keep people from coming out. At the same time, he stressed the importance of health and wasn’t ready to let go of his dream.

“We’re going to be here a long time,” Aliju said. “It does not matter what the order is.”

The order goes into effect Thursday at 8 a.m.