This article has been updated.
Cambridge businesses are now operating under different COVID-19 rules than those just over the county line in nearby London and the Lake Ripley area.
The Dane-Jefferson County line cuts right through the Village of Cambridge. Most of Cambridge, including all of its businesses and almost all of its 1,400 residents, are in Dane County, Village Administrator Lisa Moen said. About 100 village residents live in Jefferson County.
Lake Ripley lies less than a mile from downtown Cambridge, but in the Town of Oakland, in Jefferson County, that is heavily populated in the summer by seasonal residents. Unincorporated London lies three miles north of Cambridge, also in Jefferson County.
Community ties between Cambridge, the Lake Ripley area and London are historically strong; all are in the Cambridge School District and are served by Cambridge fire and EMS. But Cambridge school buildings even lie in separate counties, with the high school property in Jefferson County and Nikolay Middle School and Cambridge Elementary School in Dane County.
In Jefferson County, there are no longer any COVID-19 business or gathering restrictions after the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday May 13 struck down a statewide order. The Jefferson County Health Department on Thursday March 14 issued COVID-19 guidelines only on how businesses should operate.
On May 13, about an hour after the Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out Gov. Tony Evers’ extension through May 26 of a statewide Safer-At-Home order, ruling it invalid, Madison Dane County Public Health enacted its own Safer-At-Home order, that was to expire on May 26.
That initial Dane County order ended up only being in place for a few days. It was replaced on Monday May 18 with yet another county order, that went into effect at 8 a.m. Tuesday May 19.
The latest Dane County order has no listed sunset date, instead progressing toward a full re-opening in phases as public health benchmarks are met. It mostly parallels the former state order, with a few differences including allowing “places of amusement and activity,” such as movie theaters and bowling alleys to begin to make reopening preparations like restocking supplies.
And so, on the Dane County side of the line, coffeeshops and restaurants remain bound by rules that only allow carry-out food orders. Dane County rules also continue to strictly limit retail stores in stand-alone buildings and strip malls to five customers at a time. Shopping malls must remain closed.
Salons, barbershops and spas must remain closed for now under the newest Dane County order, except to sell products. Fitness centers must stay shut.
Because its half-dozen shops are in an indoor mall, Galleria 214 in downtown Cambridge remains unable under Dane County rules to offer in-store shopping, building owner Dave Mittlesteadt said.
On the Jefferson County side of the line, however, it’s a very different, suddenly wide-open situation.
Some bars and restaurants in London and the Town of Oakland reopened almost immediately after the May 13 State Supreme Court ruling.
Deb Reddy, co-owner of the London Depot bar on Main Street in London, opened up at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 13, voluntarily restricted to 50 percent capacity but with normal hours and a normal menu.
“The minute they say we can open, we’re opening,” Reddy said.
Reddy said the decision was financial.
“Bills don’t stop, taxes don’t stop,” Reddy said. “We couldn’t get the disaster loans, we couldn’t get the PPE. We’re just in limbo like that...there’s no revenue.”
London Depot tried to offer carry-out in the beginning of the statewide Safer-At-Home order, Reddy said, but it “wasn’t worth the time.”
The bar is seeing customers already, including regulars and new faces, which Reddy said “is wonderful,”
Some people are coming to London from Dane County, where in-person bar service remains restricted, she said.
“Dane County (bars) can’t open, so that’s another reason that we’re doing really well,” Reddy said. “Us being just over the line in Jefferson (County), we’re going to be busy because Dane won’t let anybody in.”
Reddy said patrons seem happy to be back.
“Everybody’s been antsy to get back in the bar,” she said. “They miss the socialization...Everybody’s just tired of being locked down at home.”
Reddy said London Depot was already using individual plastic silverware and sanitizing food baskets before COVID-19. Now, it’s encouraging people to practice social distancing and staff is sanitizing door handles and bar spaces, keeping a bar stool in between customers, asking them to wash their hands and providing individual condiments.
“A lot of it hasn’t changed much, because we’ve always done that kind of stuff...We’re just sanitizing more, wiping down doorknobs more often than we did in the past,” Reddy said.
Reddy said she feels people should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to visit establishments that are reopening.
“We’re grownups, we know what we need to do. You don’t need to lock us down,” she said.
Lake Ripley Lanes
Lake Ripley Lanes on U.S. Highway 12 in the Town of Oakland, announced in a social media post on May 14, it planned to reopen at 5 p.m. Friday, May 15.
The post said Lake Ripley Lanes will be offering bowling and opening the bar, but not serving food.
Patrons are being asked to call ahead to reserve a lane to bowl on and to leave all balls and shoes at the lane after they’re done, so staff can sanitize them. There will be an empty lane between each group of bowlers, the post added.
“We look forward to seeing those that feel safe enough to stop in and say ‘hi,’ from a distance of course,” the post said.
Lake Ripley Lanes owner Jeremy Porter said in a phone interview Thursday May 14 that the bowling alley wasn’t open at all during the statewide Safer-At-Home order.
It did offer one night of a carry out fish fry, Porter said, with proceeds going to the Cambridge Food Pantry. But otherwise, it’s been closed, canceling the last month of its bowling season in March.
He said he’s since had some time to do maintenance work.
“We’ve done some work on machines, and little stuff,” Porter said. “I didn’t want to do anything big this year.”
Hering’s Lake Ripley Inn
Other Lake Ripley-area bars and restaurants are moving more slowly to reopen.
Jon Hering owns Hering’s Lake Ripley Inn on County Road A in the Town of Oakland and other restaurants Lake Mills and Jefferson.
He said in-person service won’t come back right away, and he isn’t in a rush to get there.
Hering’s Lake Ripley Inn has been open for carryout throughout the statewide Safer-At-Home order.
When in-person service resumes, that will probably be in a soft opening, Hering said, that isn’t publicized on social media or online.
“We’re not reopening like other places quite so fast; we’re getting as much info as we can as far as how to do it safely,” Hering said.
Hering said he’s in the process of ordering single-serving condiment packets, plastic silverware, and other disposable serving items. He’s also consulting with his insurance company.
“We’re trying to be thorough. We’re trying to make sure we have everything handled before we open up to the public,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody that comes in is safe, and my employees are safe.”
Lake Ripley Country Club
Greg Engelstad, general manager of Lake Ripley Country Club on U.S. Highway 12 in the Town of Oakland, said food orders, including Friday night fish fry, will remain carry-out only for now.
Carryout food can be eaten on the golf course and on a handful of spaced-out patio tables that have been put out behind the clubhouse, he said.
But inside dining will wait a while, Engelstad said. He said logistics include spacing out tables and calling back waitstaff, that “hasn’t really been working,” for months.
Lake Ripley Country Club has about 400 member-households, and its golf course and clubhouse are only open to members, Engelstad said.
“I don’t know when we’ll start that,” Engelstad said, of in-person dining. “I think there’s still a lot of concern out there, is it safe to be sitting in a restaurant right now?”
The bar is open for drinks he said, but all of the bar stools have been removed to deter congregating, he said.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to make this a safe environment,” he said, following a variety of guidance including from the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.
Sports Page Bar and Grill
Dawn Johnson, owner of the Sports Page Bar and Grill on U.S. Highway 12 in the Town of Oakland, said its bar is open for “socially distanced cocktails” but food remains limited to carryout.
“We are proceeding with caution,” Johnson said. “Once the weather gets nice our patio will be open and you can take your food outside,” but they are not ready for that yet, she said.
Terry Peters, owner of the J&T Bait Shanty on Marina Lane, fronting on Lake Ripley in the Town of Oakland, said she opened up on March 13 for carryout snacks and drinks, and for bait sales, and has a walk-up window.
She said she could have opened up earlier this spring for carry-out bait but chose not to. Now, she said she’s “open as normal…pretty much,” with some space outside where snacks can be eaten.
Lake Ripley Family Restaurant on U.S. Highway 12 in the Town of Oakland said in a social media post that it will remain limited to carryout through Sunday May 17. The restaurant said it would open for in-person seating at 6 a.m. Monday May 18.
And in a social media post, Mink Farm Tavern on U.S. Highway 12 in the Town of Oakland announced on Wednesday May 13 that it was open, noting that “we are encouraging our customers to practice safe social distancing but can’t guarantee that everyone will.”