Milwaukee businesses face stiffer fines for COVID-19 violations

Follow the law or pay up. 

The City of Milwaukee is increasing penalties for businesses in violation of the health department's COVID-19 guidelines. The reason? City leaders say too many bars and restaurants were ignoring orders.

Bars and restaurants, like Steny's, have been following the rules, and they're asking other businesses not to ruin it for everyone. In the past eight months, business there has been anything but normal.

"Whatever I have to do to stay open, I’ll do," said Ryan Steny, Steny's co-owner.

"No mask, no service" sign at Steny's Tavern

The bar and restaurant has made major changes -- from requiring masks and social distancing, to cutting 95% of its staff.

"The day before St. Patrick’s Day, I had over 80 employees. Two weeks later, I had less than 10," Steny said.

Steny has been trying to keep customers coming while making sure they are safe. The business has been following the city's COVID-19 guidelines -- but not every bar and restaurant has been doing the same.

"Our intent is to have businesses work with us to follow the law so that we can end this pandemic," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

Steny's Tavern

Fines will go from $500 to $2,500 for a first-time violation. Violators will then face $5,000 in fines after that, and up to $20,000 total.

"Our goal is to make sure everyone is following public health orders," said Barrett.

Those orders are being taken seriously at Steny's.

"Bottom line to me is that if you follow the rules you don’t have to worry about the fine," Steny said.

COVID-19 guidelines sign at Steny's Tavern

One business trying to thrive is asking others to do what they can to keep a struggling industry afloat.

"Let’s all be on the same page, do this together, so we can remain open and keep business going and keep people employed," said Steny.

Steny said one problem they have faced is customers refusing to comply with the rules and wear a mask. They are doing what they can to make sure everyone follows guidelines so they don't get in trouble.

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