June 1 not soon enough for Watson Hunting Camp
The owner of the Watson Hunting Camp in rural Chippewa County plans to open its restaurant and bar Wednesday. The owner does not want to lose a business he's put so much into for the past two decades, and calls the reopening a matter of survival.
WATSON — June 1st will not come soon enough for Chuck Ellingson, owner of the Watson Hunting Camp in rural Chippewa County.
“Some of us can’t wait that long and survive,” said Ellingson of the date that Gov. Tim Walz set for the possible reopening of bars, restaurants and hair salons.
Ellingson said he is opening the doors of the restaurant and bar at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The business owner said he believes Walz lacks the constitutional authority to shutter bars and restaurants during the pandemic while allowing many other businesses to remain open. He said he also doesn’t feel it is fair that some businesses, including stores selling candy, can operate while his business is considered unsafe in comparison.
But Ellingson said he is not reopening Wednesday just to prove a legal point or argue for fairness.
This is about saving a business he has put blood and sweat into through his adult life and about supporting his family, he said. He has operated the popular restaurant, bar and hunting and fishing guide service for more than 20 years at his location just a short distance from Lac qui Parle Lake.
Then-Congressman Walz was among the participants when the camp in 2016 was the site of the state's Governor's Pheasant Opener hosted by Montevideo.
Ellingson has been offering carry-out service since the governor closed bars and restaurants by a peacetime emergency directive. Selling racks of ribs and hamburgers at a location miles from any town just doesn’t provide the revenue he needs to keep up with expenses, he said.
He will be opening the doors with signs telling potential customers not to enter if they are not feeling well. Tables will be separated by a minimum of eight feet. “I will do the best job I possibly can to make sure everything is always clean and sanitized,” he said.
The pandemic has already been a costly experience for him. He was not allowed to be open for the fishing opener, which is traditionally a busy weekend and start of his summer season. He has also seen a major drop in demand for guide service during the turkey hunting season.
The business was poised to open its new event center this year. It was scheduled to host the Montevideo High School prom. He said it has also lost about one-half of the weddings that had been scheduled.
The financial toll and the challenges of operating in a remote, rural location give him little choice but to reopen to save the business, Ellingson said. He said he hopes that other bars and restaurants will do so as well.