Covid Concerns: As pandemic worries lead to canceled events and closed businesses, local economy takes a hit

Tom Giffey, photos by Tom Giffey |

HOLD THE SHOWS. On Friday, March 13, Executive Director Jason Jon Anderson announced that the Pablo Center in Eau Claire will close its doors through April 14.
HOLD THE SHOWS. On Friday, March 13, Executive Director Jason Jon Anderson announced that the Pablo Center in Eau Claire will close its doors through April 14.

The hits came fast as the extent of the coronavirus pandemic became clear during the second week of March: First, public health concerns led to a trickle – then a stream – of event cancellations. UW-Stout and UW-Eau Claire canceled classes. On March 12, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers declared a statewide public health emergency. Based on state advice to cancel events drawing more than 250 people, the Pablo Center at the Confluence in Eau Claire announced March 13 it would shut its doors until April 14 at the earliest. A statewide school shutdown was announced later that day, and a growing number of public facilities announced they’d close (like the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire) or cancel programs (the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library).

“The businesses that are going to get hit the hardest at the small businesses that are the backbone of our communities.” – David Minor, president and CEO, Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce

Then, on March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended that all gatherings of 50 people or more be postponed for eight weeks. Restaurants, taverns, and other businesses began to voluntarily close or curtail their activities.
Among the the first to temporarily close were the Eau  Claire establishments owned John Mogensen and Lisa Aspenson – Mona Lisa’s, Mogie’s Pub, Stella Blues, The Livery, The Red Room, and The Stone’s Throw – which were shut down through at least March 29.

“While we understand that there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our area, we feel that this temporary closing will help protect the health of our employees, our customers, our families, and our community,” the owners said in an email. “We thank you for your patronage and look forward to serving you in the near future.”

The cancellations and closures – and the uncertainty that has driven them – add up to a sharp blow to the Chippewa Valley economy for the foreseeable future. The region’s travel and tourism businesses will undoubtedly be particularly impacted. Considering that direct tourism spending in Chippewa, Eau Claire, and Dunn counties was tallied at $408 million in 2018, the impact will likely be extensive.

“It’s going to be so different across the board,” David Minor, president and CEO of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, said when asked about the economic impact of shutdowns and cancelations. “The businesses that are going to get hit the hardest at the small businesses that are the backbone of our communities,” he said.

These are the same business that – under normal circumstances – are the places residents go seeking donations for fundraisers and the like, Minor said. “This is the opportunity for the community to do a 180 and make sure these businesses are with us when we walk out of this,” he said.

On March 16, the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce began surveying members about their response to the pandemic, asking questions about topics such as supply chain disruptions, spending restrictions, and adjusted sick-time policies. The survey, as well as ongoing discussions to local organizations such the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp., Downtown Eau Claire Inc., and other local chambers of commerce, will help local business leaders plan their responses to the pandemic, Minor said.

The closure of the Pablo Center alone will cost the arts center and its constituent groups an estimated half million dollars, Executive Director Jason Jon Anderson said. About $300,000 will be felt directly by the Pablo, while another $200,000 will hit the nonprofit arts groups, such as local theater troupes, that use the facility, Anderson said. “We’re going to see our local arts community dramatically impacted with this, because they don’t have the flexibility to reschedule as much as what we would see with our national performing tours,” he said.

The Pablo Center’s closure was based upon advice from the Eau Claire City-County Health Department that all events with attendance above 250 people be canceled, which came before the CDC recommendation against gatherings of 50 or more.
“I understand that this is dynamic public health situation,” Anderson told reporters on March 13. “The well-being of artists, patrons, and staff will always be paramount in my mind. Please have some patience and empathy for those businesses, industries, and livelihoods being affected by this continuously changing environment.”

People who have purchased tickets to the canceled Pablo Center events were given four options:

• Moving the tickets to a rescheduled performance.
• A potential ability to watch a live stream of the concert or event.
• Donating the value of the tickets back to presenting group or Pablo Center.
• Receiving a full refund.

Anderson predicted challenging time for entertainment, art, and hospitality-related businesses. “Other groups are going to be able to continue to function, but I think I would be remiss to say that this is going to have a tremendous impact on all of our local art constituents – artists, sculptors, painters,” he said. “If people can support the local art scene in any capacity, there is no more dire time than now to do so.”