MILWAUKEE -- Over 70 Milwaukee businesses have joined together and written a letter to Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, calling on them to require that masks be worn by patrons and workers in public spaces including stores, theaters, museums, restaurants and bars (while not consuming food or beverages) to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"I have very close ties to Italy, we know how it affected Italy and how it affected certain countries around the world," said Paul Bartolotta of the Bartolotta Restaurants. "No country has successfully put to bed or managed down the pandemic without the use of masks."
Fiserv Forum, Colectivo Coffee, The Sherman Phoenix, The Pabst Theater Group and Bartolotta Restaurants are among those signing their support. Bartolotta said his restaurants are already making the needed adjustments to operate at 50% capacity and to operate with social distancing with custom dividers.
Without a city mandate, businesses say that many customers may not be compliant with their own mask requirements, resulting in a loss of business and “the risk is much higher for new outbreaks, which could result in new stay-at-home orders that put us out of business for good.”
The Bartolotta Restaurants plans to reopen one of its restaurants -- Ristorante Bartolotta in Wauwatosa -- on July 8.
Caitlin Cullen, chef and owner of The Tandem restaurant, is among the 70 business owners asking for a mask mandate. When the restaurants opened its doors three-and-a-half years ago, Cullen let her mission guide her. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it turned The Tandem into curbside service and, then, a free community meal hub that continues to dish out 1,000 meals a day.
"We started cooking meals and feeding people because I was positive we were going to go out of business. So, I thought, I want to go down swinging and do what we thought, was the right thing," said Cullen. "We're one of the only restaurants in the city that's not suffering because we've landed these big national and global partnerships."
Paul Zerkel, chef and owner at Goodkind, also signed the letter. However, he said a mask mandate still would not alleviate occupancy issues that keep their doors closed.
"Our restaurant is quite small. We seat 45 people. At the moment with 25% capacity, we'd be opening for 10 people, and that's not financially stable," said Zerkel. "The quicker we can get the pandemic controlled, the more people we can invite into our restaurant."
Barrett said he is currently working with the Milwaukee Common Council and the city attorney to achieve a mask policy that could withstand a legal challenge. Johnson said creating a policy through the Common Council would be wise, transparent and could stand up legally.
"I would support some version of a mandate on masks," Johnson said. "Generally, I think the legislative process codifies it."
Meanwhile, Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic plans to introduce a mask-wearing policy called MKE Cares to the Public Safety and Health Committee on Thursday, July 2.
CLICK HERE to sign the petition.