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Ice cream sales, boat repair booming on Lake Wisconsin

MERRIMAC, Wis. (AP) — Adam Gallus was prepared for the worst when in April he forged ahead with a more than $20,000 remodeling project on his ice cream stand, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shop, which hugs the roadway just feet from the Merrimac Ferry landing, now has a larger service window, new counter top, higher ceilings, a fresh coat of paint, new flooring and a $4,200 energy-efficient freezer packed with 3-gallon buckets of fresh ice cream.

Gallus anticipated a difficult season at his Merrimac Ferry Landing Concessions, but figured he’d be able to weather the expected downturn and survive for another year.

His prediction was way off. And his right arm is feeling it, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Gallus, 37, who has operated the family-owned shop for the past 23 years, has never had a better season. Sales are up by 60% overall, and weekday sales are nearly double that of a year ago. Gallus’ right scooping arm is getting an unprecedented workout as customers eager to get out of the house are flocking to his business for a dish or cone of chocolate chip cookie dough, Blue Moon, raspberry truffle or one of 24 other flavors from Schoep’s and Chocolate Shoppe ice cream companies.

“Maybe this is one of the things that represents some normalcy for them,” Gallus, who works alone except on Sundays, said of his customers. “I didn’t think I’d be setting records for the better. I thought I’d be setting sales records for the worse. So I’m very surprised and very grateful just to be open this year under the circumstances that we’re all dealing with.”

The state’s tourism industry is expected to lose billions of dollars this year as festivals, fairs, concerts and other summer staples have been wiped off the calendar. Wisconsin Dells is open, but attendance is down, although an estimated 100,000 people may have descended on the area over the July 4 weekend, increasing the likelihood of a rise in coronavirus cases, health officials said.

But it’s the Merrimac Ferry that has created this business opportunity for Gallus and a competing ice cream shop, the Merrimac Scoop, located across Lake Wisconsin via aqua Highway 113.

The Scoop, located on the south shore of Lake Wisconsin in the town of Lodi, sat empty for years until it was purchased in 2013.

The Gallus operation on the north bank has a long history that dates to the late 1940s, when Bud and Dolly Gallus purchased a tiny diner, a home and four cottages to rent to tourists.

In the 1960s, Bud, who worked full-time as a truck driver, began repairing outboard motors and boats out of his garage before expanding the operation into a standalone facility next door. Tom Gallus, 69, Adam’s father, began working for his parents, went to service school in Fond du Lac in 1966 at the age of 15 to learn how to repair engines, and now owns what is called Ferry Landing Marine.

Cabins are no longer part of the business plan, but one was moved years ago for use by the Galluses as a hunting cabin in rural Sauk County. Another remains at the marina and is used for storage.

On a recent Thursday, Tom Gallus was swamped with work and had more than 30 jobs in the queue. He’s been busy replacing water pumps and broken props, rebuilding engines and fixing bilge pumps and carburetors. He was also dreaming of his winter break on Marco Island, where he uses a Jet Ski to glide among the mangroves.

“Right away in March, when we got back from Florida, it was just all (gung-ho) right away. It’s been just endless,” Tom Gallus said of the repair work this season. “Usually, at this time of the year, there’s a lull. I think people have more time on their hands. It’s been busier than all get-out.”

Gallus’ shop is filled with remnants of broken props, motors in repair, boats in waiting and scores of tools.

“The whole industry is busy,” Gallus said. “New boats, repairs, everything. The market has been just fantastic.”

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