LAKE GENEVA, Wis. - Thousands of Illinois residents headed north this Memorial Day weekend to do activities in Wisconsin they cannot do at home.
But not everyone is happy about the Illinois invasion.
“When we came up here, it’s like a convoy of Illinois cars to get out of the state. There’s no freedom,” said David Carlin of Woodstock.
Indeed, it looked like rush hour on the Dan Ryan in downtown Lake Geneva. Illinois cars were bumper to bumper and Illinois residents were shoulder-to-shoulder, packing bars, restaurants, boats and beaches.
“Everyone in Illinois is leaving. We have to leave because we can’t stand it anymore. Wisconsin, it’s free, open. We were here yesterday too because we can’t do anything in our state,” said Robin Anderson.
Just a few miles north of a state that has some of the toughest COVID restrictions in the country, in Wisconsin there are virtually no rules.
No one seemed to worry about social distancing and very few wore masks.
“And to just actually be at a restaurant where you can have a drink, eat outside and be with people, not have your mask on, it’s kind of a freeing experience,” said Aaron Anderson of Deerfield.
It is also a boon for business owners in the Wisconsin tourist town.
Some say the weekend invasion may have saved them from going under.
“It’s revitalized us again. We were dead in the water basically. So now we can pay our bills, pay our employees. Pay ourselves,” said Melissa Reuss, owner of Geneva Gifts.
But not everybody in Lake Geneva is happy about the crowds.
“I thought it was a test tube for COVID-19 incubation period,” said retired science teacher Doug Harrod.
Harrod lives just a few miles outside of Lake Geneva. He says when he tried to go into town Sunday, he felt unsafe.
“I turned around because it was, like I said wall-to-wall people. No social distancing. Hardly no masks. And I said no it’s not worth it,” he said.
The people who own and run the bars and restaurants were too busy to talk. But said they have tried to enforce some social distancing by separating tables and using the sidewalks. But they aren’t requiring customers to use masks.
So while some may see the crowds and worry about a coronavirus spike, for others it is a much needed break from the lockdown.
“It’s like heaven. People are enjoying themselves and having fun, being alive you know,” Robin Anderson said.