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New order allows most small retail stores in Wisconsin to open, with limits

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Note: The Safer-At-Home order was revoked by a state supreme court ruling after this printing.

Governor Tony Evers announced on May 8 that nonessential small businesses, including retailers, may open, but with limits.

Standalone or strip mall-based retail stores with an entrance or entrances to the outside may offer in-person shopping for up to five customers at a time. Face coverings are strongly encouraged for all staff and customers, and social distancing requirements must be observed at all times. Additionally, all stores operating under this section must establish lines outside the store to regulate entry with markings indicating where customers should stand to remain six feet apart from one another while waiting to enter. Stores may also use alternatives to lines, including allowing customers to wait in their cars for a text message or phone call and scheduling pickups or entries to the store.

Evers emphasized the loosening of restrictions was meant to help smaller retail operations, rather than larger chain stores. He told reporters, “All along we’re trying to mitigate the transmission of the disease and one of the ways to do that is to start small.”

Nonessential businesses that may not open at least through May 26 include nail and hair salons or tattoo parlors, gyms and fitness centers, movie theaters and concert venues, and museums. Sit-down service at restaurants and bars are still prohibited, but takeout and curbside pickup is permitted. Churches and places of worship are not allowed to have a gathering of more than 10 people at least through May 26.

Doctors and dentist offices remain open but with safeguards and limits. Licensed child care facilities continue to operate with no more than 10 staff members, and no more than 50 children present at any one time. Social-distancing guidelines are in effect for adults doing pickup and drop-off of children at the centers. Kohler Kare remains closed, however. Nurseries, garden centers and farmers markets remain open with social-distancing guidelines. Golf courses have been open with social distancing rules. Most Wisconsin state parks are open, but bathrooms, observation towers and contact stations, are closed and you must have a sticker, or purchase one by calling 888-305-0398. Sheboygan County parks are also open, but facilities are closed.

The Governor said that businesses looking to keep workers, customers, and families safe while “turning the dial” toward reopening can now draw on a series of publications to keep them informed of best practices and safety tips.

The guides were developed by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) in consultation with the Departments of Health Services, Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, and Tourism, as well as and industry experts and associations. Included in the brochures are general guidelines for all businesses to follow as well as industry-specific advice, such as for restaurants, retailers, manufacturers, professional offices, farmers, manufacturers, builders, hotel and motel operators, barbers, personal care services, entertainment and amusement, gym and fitness centers, and other fields.

“Wisconsin businesses have done a great job in adapting to our state’s Safer at Home order,” Gov. Evers said. “As we begin to ‘turn the dial,’ they need to know how to reopen safely so that employees and customers can feel confident when they return.”

“What these guides really aim to do is provide actionable advice for businesses, especially small businesses, as they begin the road back to reopening,” said WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes. “The guides answer basic questions, such as how to handle transactions at cash registers, what to do about merchandise that’s been handled by customers, and how to set up an office using social distancing strategies.”

Some of the general advice for businesses includes:

  • Making sure that employees who are sick don’t come to work
  • Curtailing business travel whenever possible.
  • Promoting telecommuting or other work-from-home arrangements
  • Making sure employees have access to sanitizers and personal protective equipment when appropriate.

Gov. Evers said the reopening of state businesses will continue to be guided by the health care metrics contained in the Badger Bounce Back plan, which include tracking new cases of COVID-19, assessing available medical resources to cope with COVID cases, and ensuring adequate testing and mitigation resources.

Copies of the guide will be available on the WEDC website at:


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