Hayward Businesses Prepare for the Unknown as Birkie Week Begins

Participants of The 2021 American Birkebeiner Can Choose to Participate In-Person or Virtually

HAYWARD, Wis. – During an average year, the American Birkebeiner welcomes over 10,000 participants from around the world to the town of Hayward and surrounding communities.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic is putting a damper on the normalcy of this year’s event.

Not only are the participants feeling the impact, but local businesses are also adjusting to the new reality.

“We have no idea what to expect with Birkie this week,” said Jess Welty, owner of Frankie’s Pizza in Hayward.

Amid the sunny skies and freshly groomed trails, there’s a cloud of unknown hanging over Hayward this week.

“Birkie week usually means getting to see a lot of people from around the world,” said Welty.

Toss in a global pandemic, and what’s typically normal, is now no longer.

“We’ve just keeping an open mind and trying to do the best we can to get a nice warm meal,” said Welty.

Welty knows a thing or two about whipping out the best pizza in town.

“We’ve grown every year since we’ve opened up down here,” said Welty.

Frankie’s Pizza is going on five years of business in the Hayward community.

“Word of mouth for our pizza has been expanding ever since,” said Welty.

He and his staff are no strangers to the controlled chaos known as Birkie weekend.

“Usually there’s more of a buzz around town with the bridge,” said Welty.

However, they along with many others in town, have no idea what to expect as the race takes place virtually this year for many of the participants.

“Normally we’d probably staff it up, but this year we’re just going to see how it goes,” said Welty.

Welty says there’s no need to worry.

The larger than average food order has been placed and extreme safety protocols are being followed to make sure the only thing customers are getting is a hot pizza and satisfaction.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure people stay safe,” said Welty.

Roughly 15 minutes east, Grand Pines Resort & Motel is expecting a slower than average boom for Birkie weekend.

“This is the first season we have some vacancies,” said Mike Best, property manager of Grand Pines Resort & Motel. “A lot of people decided to cancel or they’re just coming for a shorter period to do the race and then go back home.”

Shorter stays, seemingly the new normal according to Best.

“From the beginning, everyone was saying that it’s going to be canceled, it has to be canceled, this is a worldwide event,” said Best.

He’s beyond grateful to the Birkie board for finding a way to make the 2021 race sail smoothly.

“We’ve got some people checking in during the week, but they’re only staying two or three days during the week and then leaving before the weekend,” said Best.

Best says normally, they’d have nearly 30 guests standing in line to check in on any given day this week.

Now, the typically full resort has four open units that staff hopes to fill before the weekend wraps up.

“We’ll probably never go back to where we have a resort office. We’re finding our guests like the virtual check-in better,” said Best.

The resort has implemented a new virtual reservation system, eliminating as much in-person contact as possible.

As locals adjust to the abnormal week in play, they hope racers will remember to support local whether it’s this year or the next.

“Everyone that’s here has been coming here for the 12 years that I’ve been here. There are very few new guests just because you can’t get into the resort — everybody wants their cabin every year,” said Best.

Best says aside from Birkie week, the resort continues to see heavy snowmobile and ice fishing traffic.

He also works as a local fishing guide and has been booked daily since Christmas.

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