Most small business owners look at their local aldermen as boosters for a thriving business community. However, one Wisconsin Dells business, Made With Love, finds itself the possible victim of a government arbitrarily exercising its emergency powers during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the wording of the Safer at Home order and permission from local authorities to operate, Made With Love was almost shut down by the police shortly after re-opening.
The store had been closed for a month to comply with the Safer at Home order from Governor Tony Evers.
“We did want to help the state prepare because they didn’t have the medical supplies,” said Darcy Bloom, one of the store owners, in an interview Monday. “They didn’t have the hospital capacity they thought they needed or all of the testing that they they needed.”
However, when the original deadline ended, the owners decided to reopen the gift shop. After all, the store did sell items on the essential items list, including pet products, some food items, soap, masks, hand sanitizer, kitchen products, towels, even natural oils that people use for their personal health.
“We could have very well have tried to fight to be open before this but we were trying to be helpful, too, with the order and keeping everyone safer at home as well,” Bloom said. “So we were also following that until Friday and then we opened up.”
The store owners reached out to the chief of police in the Wisconsin Dells last week to confirm they could re-open as long as they were selling essential items.
Bloom said she was at the local Walmart when she noticed they were almost out of liquid and bar soap.
“So I was like, finally people can just, if they run out of it, they can find hand soap at our store to use at home,” Bloom said.
The decision to reopen was made because of the shutdown’s financial impact on the store.
“Our own economy, our store. We still owe bills, we still owe mortgages, and we won’t be able to make the difference up,” Bloom said. “We haven’t seen any aid yet. We’ve been told that maybe we would get something. To this day, we haven’t seen it.”
Even if the store does get some assistance, it may not be enough.
“So we have to try to make money as best as we can or we could be homeless,” Bloom said. “If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.”
But the re-opening didn’t last long before trouble began. On the same day the shop reopened, Friday, the police showed up to shut the store down despite the earlier conversation with the police chief. They were responding to a complaint from one of the city’s aldermen who was apparently concerned that gift shops in the Dells might just start selling dog food just so they could re-open.
Bloom showed the officers the order from Evers and pointed out that the retail gift shop sold essential items.
“The police were really concerned about quantity for some reason. That we needed to have a percentage (of essential products),” Bloom said. “I said, it’s not in that order that you have to have a majority of these things in there. I said I can’t count them all to tell you what the percentage even is right now.”
She told the police that she just knew there was a demand for the essential items she is selling.
“I just know we have enough to hopefully attract people if they need soap bars or if they need something else,” Bloom said.
She added that she is supportive of the police in general and that she does not hold any ill-will towards the officers who came to her store. “I know that they were just trying to do their job,” Bloom said. “I disagree with how they went about it.”
After the visit from the police officers, Made With Love was allowed to remain open.
The store is scheduled to be open Thursday, but a Facebook post on Wednesday cautions that they may only be open for curbside and internet orders while they wait for more legal advice. However, they will have hand sanitizer and masks available for sale.
Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, the store always had hand sanitizer available for their customers to use. Now the store has a glove station near the door.
“What I really wanted to have was masks made by local vendors because there was a shortage of masks everywhere,” Bloom said. “So we actually had those in the store on Friday when we reopened for sale.”
Bloom said that most of the reaction her store has been receiving from the public for re-opening has been positive.
“And then, of course, with the support, there’s a smaller portion of harassment starting to begin, too,” Bloom said. “To me, it’s sad as a business owner that people would take the time to hurt somebody when they have no idea. They’ve never been in our store, they’ve never met me, they don’t know anything about me as a person other than the fact that I had an encounter with the police. They’re trying to pick out the negative parts of it rather than look at the whole picture.”
Bloom said the harassment has been on Facebook, including her personal page, and even in the store’s Google reviews.
“It’s the same couple people, not like a bunch,” Bloom said. “It’s just a few. They just have too much time on their hands.”
As for the store’s critics who claim she has not stood up for freedom before, Bloom has an answer. “I am a U.S. veteran of the Air Force, too,” Bloom said. “I fought for our freedom.”
Now she finds herself fighting for freedom at home.