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West side businesses change amid pandemic

By Ben Rodgers

GREEN BAY – Warren Zevon may have sung about “Splendid Isolation,” but for some west side business owners on Green Bay’s west side, Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’” holds more weight right now.

Todd Magnuson, co-owner of Rock N Roll Land on Military Avenue, normally slings vintage and hard-to-find vinyl records, but his shop has moved online after the business was deemed non-essential.

“The online thing is really all I have,” Magnuson said. “I just can’t afford to sit here and do nothing. Being such a small business, we buy and sell constantly. Every little profit I make I’m usually buying more records to keep that thing moving. Right now, obviously there’s not a ton of money coming in, so for me to be buying is just not happening. I’m trying to go through and keep some money flowing. As little as it is, I still have an electric bill to pay, rent to pay.”

Though music is normally a staple for anyone who visits a record store, the music has temporarily stopped at Rock N Roll Land as Magnuson moved his shop and sales to the record collecting website Discogs.

“I’ve been offering free shipping to the local people and it’s helped,” he said. “A lot of my regulars have placed orders.”

He has more than 500 records listed for sale on the internet’s dominant record marketplace, and is trying to add about 30 a day.

“It’s funny how much it has thinned out,” Magnuson said. “I’ve sold quite a few things on Discogs, which is great. That first week when this started that was awesome. People were buying things like crazy, but now that’s thinned out.”

He said now he comes in five days a week to his west side store for a few hours to package up and mail out orders.

However, life after the pandemic is what he said scares him.

“I got invoices out there that usually would have been paid by now, and it freaks me out because when we do finally get to reopen – the rebuild cost, I’m going to have to go buy records, I’m going to have to get caught up on bills, that’s going to be the hard part,” Magnuson said.

Though the music itself may be deemed nonessential, some of those with expertise in setting up audio and visual systems are able to stay open.

Sound World on West Mason Street is considered essential because the business installs and services security cameras, said owner Joe Szprejda.

Soundworld on West Mason Street, is open as an essential business because it installs and services security cameras. It also sells and installs upgrades to wireless routers. Ben Rodgers Photo

Szprejda said business is down in some areas, like customers coming in for new audio systems for cars, boats and motorcycles, but up in other areas like configuring wireless internet.

“Your $49 wireless router just isn’t cutting it when you have five people at home online at one time, everybody online streaming stuff, so we do have new options for that,” he said.

For those in need of maximizing bandwidth due to more online work meetings, Sound World has three technicians who can fix any issues.

“They’re staying busy with wireless stuff, as for now and next week and the following week,” Szprejda said.

Even though deemed essential, Sound World closed its doors to the public, but is open by phone and does offer curbside pickup or delivery on items like new TVs, soundbars and more.

“If somebody would require a TV installed in their house, we can do that,” Szprejda said. “Ninety-five percent of the people we deal with just want their TV hooked up, because not having a TV is worse than coronavirus, and I’ve had a few people tell me that already.”

Just as most Americans would probably deem TV essential while socially isolated, plenty of people in Green Bay are gaga over the Pancake Place on Military Avenue, a west side fixture which has changed to delivery and takeout only.

One of the hardest tables to get for breakfast in the area now delivers with EatStreet and UberEats.

A customer picks up a takeout order from The Pancake Place on Military Avenue. The restaurant has laid off 28 people as the breakfast rush has dwindled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leah Weycker Photo

“People seem to like it,” said Theresa Barlament, Pancake Place owner. “Even when we we’re open, you’d be shocked how many to-go orders we take on a daily basis. I believe it’s kind of becoming the wave of the future. People want a restaurant to provide meals, but sometimes they necessarily don’t want to get dressed and go out and get it, and we’re thankful people think that way right now.”

Breakfast is tricky when it comes to takeout, and while Barlament doesn’t recommend ordering eggs over easy, she did say stuffed hashbrowns and pancakes heat up perfectly well at home.

The Pancake Place also offers a full lunch menu and started offering meal kits for families.

“The community support has been fabulous,” she said. “We’re known throughout the community and that definitely helped us to stay open.”

But orders are less than what they were when lines stretched out the door, so Barlament said she had to lay off 28 people, who she plans to hire back when the pandemic lifts.

To keep the staff she retained busy, Barlament said the restaurant has undergone a makeover inside with removing some old glass pieces, a new paint job and a wall being knocked down.

“I’m so thankful I’m able to pay the staff I still have on,” she said. “I’m able to pay most of the overhead, that’s all I can ask for at this point, and it keeps our name out there so people don’t forget about this once this is hopefully moved to the backburner.”

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