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Tommy Bartlett Show permanently closing after nearly 70 years

The owner of the Wisconsin Dells attraction says the uncertainty of the future amid the COVID-19 pandemic is the final blow.
Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 5:44 PM CDT
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WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. (WMTV) - A major Wisconsin Dells attraction is shutting its doors after almost 70 years. The Tommy Bartlett Show is permanently closing, another business on the list of casualties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The uncertainty of the pandemic is what hits the hardest, said owner Tom Diehl. When COVID-19 began spreading in the spring of 2020, he knew this year’s season could not move forward.

“Our business model, which is getting 2,000, 2500 people a day in the stadium, was not going to happen,” Diehl said.

Diehl and his family cancelled their 2020 season, but it was always meant to be temporary.

“We were all very, very hopeful that they could come back for 2021,” said Romy Snyder, president of the Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau.

However, the uncertainty of the pandemic and of the future proved too much.

Diehl said the show makes up 90 percent of the company’s revenue and is also very expensive to operate. Without knowing what 2021 holds, he could not afford to invest money in another season.

Diehl and his family made the decision to permanently close the show.

“Emotionally of course, it’s hard, you put your whole life, 54 years and the family’s been involved with this since day one,” Diehl said.

Diehl and his wife became co-owners of Tommy Bartlett, Inc. with the show’s creator Tommy Bartlett in 1975. After Bartlett’s death in 1998, Diehl and his wife took over the full company.

“They’ve done so much for the Wisconsin Dells area in terms of the product offering,” said Snyder.

Snyder said the show is more than just a tourism draw. It helped put Wisconsin Dells on the map, and for her, it is personal.

“I worked there in my high school years, my brother worked there,” Snyder said, recalling how excited she and her siblings were going to work every day.

Snyder added the show’s legacy, spanning more than six decades, is in the memories of every employee and guest.

“There’s no question that they will continue to be honored, and people will be grateful for the experience of attending the show,” she said.

For Diehl, while closing is a personal blow, he is proud of the what the show accomplished and plans to stay involved in tourism in the Wisconsin Dells community.

“The Dells has been here as a tourism destination for probably 120 years and we’re well-positioned to last another 120 years,” he said.

The Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, a year-round attraction, will remain open to the public. Diehl is exploring other options for the rest of the property and hopes another company might also be able to use it as an entertainment destination.

Copyright 2020 WMTV. All rights reserved.

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