March 28, 2020 was the day it became illegal to open my mini golf and frozen yogurt business to earn money.
Initially faced with a $500 daily fine and revocation of my business license, it was months before I was allowed to reopen, and then it was under restrictions that had me basically paying customers to come. Restricted to 50% capacity or less into the latter parts of 2020, I finally closed on Dec. 19, 2020, after 15 years of operation.
The hysteria and state propaganda started around March 12, 2020. The week before Spring Break, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris officially forced me to close because my business was “non-essential.” Oddly enough, the ability to open my doors and earn money WAS ESSENTIAL TO MY FAMILY!
Never mind that the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses owned by the state never seemed to shut down. Nor did it seem that the mini golf course 30 miles up the road in an Alabama State Park ever closed. But my 18-hole mini golf, outside in the fresh air, was mandated to shut down.
I opened a tool and heavy equipment rental business in September 2005. Due to spinal issues, I improvised in 2018, selling off my tools and remodeling the building into a frozen yogurt/gelato shop, building an 18-hole mini golf course in the rear.
My business survived the 2007-2008 economic crash that shuttered four other tool rental stores nearby. It survived my multiple spine surgeries, which basically forced me to learn to walk again and revamp my business into one I could handle physically.
But do you know what it could not survive? Ivey and Harris making it illegal to open my doors and earn money.
I had big plans for 2020. I had a day job working the desk at a tool rental company in Auburn, so I found a great young man to work afternoons at my business, while my son and I would work nights. After working my fingers to the bone for 55-65 hours a week for 14 years, I was finally seeing my hard work pay off and the American Dream come true. Just like every other small businessman destroyed with the shutdown, I had worked and sacrificed for years, aiming to “finally make it,” and 2020 was the year to realize that goal.
Instead, I saw my day job close permanently due to the construction industry’s forced shutdown, while my own business was shuttered for months, digging a hole in our personal finances just to pay the bills. (Again, oddly enough, when the governor and state health director say it is illegal to earn money, you still must pay your bills.)
So instead of completing the mini golf plan and going up 30% in annual revenue, enabling me to pay off the remodel debt, I experienced a 76% decrease in revenue, losing everything I spent 15 years of my life to build.
My little town of Wetumpka also lost out on a fun family activity. Five small restaurants closed in Wetumpka because of the Ivey/Harris order. I am 100% sure that, just like me, those people’s livelihood was essential to them and their families.
It’s also interesting to note that I didn’t see a health inspection date in any food establishment located in Lee, Elmore, Autauga, and Montgomery counties between February 2020 and December 2020 or beyond. So, this alleged plague that forced the state to shut down my business and all these others was dangerous enough to close those businesses, but somehow not dangerous enough to require the health department to go out and inspect the food service for nearly an entire year? Can you explain or rationalize this?
In the time I was open, I never had anything other than a score of 100. But on a general principle, I didn’t pay my yearly fee in September 2020 for two reasons: I was angry the government shut me down, and also angry that they never came to inspect me or, to my knowledge, any other food establishment for nearly a year. They stuck a condemnation notice on my door, and I had to pay the $75 fee, but THEY NEVER CAME TO INSPECT ME, they just wanted the money. Once they had the fee, I was magically not condemned any more.
Was any of this about safety? Ivey herself admitted she knew it was a mistake when she shut it all down, but she still went along with Harris for months. Well into the fall and winter these two still had people terrified to live or patronize restaurants and entertainment venues.
This put massive economic strain and occupancy restrictions on us. I was not supposed to have more than 10 people on the mini golf course at a time, the same course on which well over 150 people safely spread out on previously. To follow their inside mandates, I needed a minimum of three people to serve customers, as no self-service was allowed. Believe me, there is no money to be made selling frozen yogurt at 50 cents an ounce while paying three people to serve it. It would have caused an even larger loss than the 76% I lost in revenue. Furthermore, one person could run the entire place. Customers were not going to pay more in order to satisfy the state’s restrictions on me.
Once I was allowed to reopen, I served gelato only, running a frozen yogurt shop with no frozen yogurt until that fall. But by that time, the state and media had everyone so petrified to live, it still wasn’t feasible to make the yogurt because people were too scared to come out and eat or play mini golf. When I made the yogurt, I ended up putting 90% of it down the drain.
My story is just an example of the results of the idiotic Covid shutdown that Ivey and Harris forced on Alabamian small businesses. Look at your community and I bet you can name 5-10 small businesses that are gone forever. These were your friends and neighbors, the people who sponsored your kids’ teams and events, or maybe even you yourself. Everything they worked for was taken from them for nothing.
Ivey was right about one thing: she knew it was a mistake when she did it. However, she did it anyway, allowing it to continue for months. Ivey and Harris ruined the work of people’s lives and neither of them has suffered any recourse for their actions. This is a travesty.
Remember what they did and do not let it happen again.
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