Milwaukee business community braces for confusion once latest mask mandate goes into effect


MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — The Milwaukee business community is expressing concern about the new indoor mask mandate that is expected to be signed.

This mandate was adopted by the municipal council on Tuesday morning by 12 votes to 1, with one abstention.

These concerns focus on enforcement: business owners say the responsibility to control the mandate is now shifting to them. And they say it hits at a terrible time, as businesses are still struggling to get back on their feet.

Shawn Leet, co-owner of The Stone, says there’s no profit right now and it’s hard to pay the bills. “I can tell you that we’re probably still less than 50% of where we were before the pandemic. And I think that would get us to a quarter of that.”

Leet watched customers stay away as he rigorously enforced the first mask mandate.

He says another mask warrant could crash his business again, this time for good. “I don’t know if in six weeks, five or six weeks, we wouldn’t be completely underwater.”

But the single “no” vote in the common council indicates that the ordinance is largely toothless. Alderman Mark Borkowski said: “Let’s face it. He’s a paper tiger.”

There will be no fines, and the mayor and health commissioner admit they will not be enforced.

Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said: ‘We don’t have the staff to do that at this time.

Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson said, “It’s not a priority. I’m not interested in the health department punishing businesses or punishing individuals.”

But the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is concerned about the vague language and the possible repercussions for businesses that cannot force customers to mask themselves.

Chairman Tim Sheehy said: “It comes with a threat that at some point the board may revoke your operating license.” Sheehy says there will be confusion and worry on day one.

Leet, the bar owner, says it’s no longer a public health issue. “To require a business owner like me, or any business owner, to protect those who don’t want to protect themselves, I think is an excess, an oversight.”

Leet said that as a liquor licensee, he will follow the law. But he added that while this mandate puts the bar under pressure as before, it is uncertain whether it will ever reopen.


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