The Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce “Tourism Counts” Award is presented to an individual, business, or organization who, by their leadership and efforts, have made a difference in the promotion and development of tourism in our area. The name of the award reflects the tourism commissions’ desire to impress upon the community that tourism does count in the bigger economic picture, and that it does impact the vitality of our city.
Last year, our Fall Open House took place virtually, and we recognized Jim and Christa Bowers for their investment in three waterfront restaurants, all of which have become tourist destinations as well as local favorites.
When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, The Fireside closed just three weeks into a seven-week run of GUYS AND DOLLS. All The Fireside’s part-time staff and most of the full-time staff was laid off. Ryan and Kristi Klopcic chose to keep the management team intact and shifted everyone to working from home. Immediate tasks included moving reservations for rescheduled shows and cancelling all unnecessary expenses. As soon as staff were allowed back in the building, Ryan and Kristi empowered the team to tackle cleaning, maintenance, and re-organization of projects by thinking outside the box on how The Fireside could generate revenue.
The first new ventures came from a desire to make use of existing inventory. Kristi took the lead on building an online gift shop featuring the new spring and summer merchandise, while the restaurant managers figured out how to serve the award-winning Friday Night Fish Fry dinners “to-go” while maintaining The Fireside’s high-quality standards. This led to Wednesday take-outs of their signature barbecued ribs and other entrees. Following Ryan and Kristi’s lead, each department head operated on their own or with a skeleton crew, with everyone all pitching in to help make these ideas happen. The staff learned new things, worked harder than they ever had before, and celebrated successes together.
Once re-opening the dining room was allowed, The Fireside’s Operations Manager went through training to implement procedures required by the Wisconsin Restaurant Association to be certified in the “Ready to Serve Safely” program. The restaurant opened in-house Friday Night Fish Fry to limited capacity while continuing the carryout option for a limited time.
When it became clear The Fireside wouldn’t be opening the next production scheduled for mid-April of 2020, Ryan moved it 2021. Then, about a month later the next one was also moved. Faced with moving a third show, staff started planning a “summer concert series” in June featuring top Fireside performers and tribute artists in solo or duo performances for very small, socially distanced audiences. This filled a void for guests ready to venture out safely and the theatre staff geared up to present a new show every weekend. The concert series went on to fill the summer, fall, and winter, plus the spring of 2021.
While the management team and small, core staff worked together to get back to the business of entertaining, Ryan and Kristi were right there with them - leading the way, working side by side with staff, while also bearing the burden of the financial impact of COVID-19 and other planning decisions throughout the pandemic.
Julie Nordeen, Marketing Manager at The Fireside, shared, “Despite the stress that had to be weighing on them both, every day we received encouragement, smiles, thanks, their ever-present sense of humor, and the overwhelming belief that we were going to be OK – we were going to make it through this and come out better and stronger than ever.”
Much of the core staff is now back and The Fireside is excited to be welcoming new members to the team.
Performance venues across the country were among the first to close and the last allowed to re-open. With their vision, commitment, thoughtful decision making, and leadership, Ryan and Kristi Klopcic steered The Fireside through the worst of the COVID-19 devastation and set The Fireside Theatre on a path to continued success. The ripple effect for the Fort Atkinson community in the way of employment, business with local vendors, hotel stays, and community engagement cannot be adequately measured, but are just some of the reasons Ryan and Kristi Klopcic are awarded this year’s Tourism Counts award.