NASHVILLE, Ind.–Close your business or you will be arrested. That is what the owner of Zoo’Opolis in Nashville says she was told by police and the state government because of the coronavirus.
“I find this particularly upsetting. If the governor’s executive order is about keeping public safety, then why can’t I open? We are an interactive petting zoo. We have always operated off of appointments only,” said Kathleen Bowen, owner of Zoo’Opolis. Bowen says if there was a business to keep the general public safe during coronavirus, then Zoo’Opolis would have been a great model for that.
“We already implemented all the necessary things, with the exception of masks, which was easy to implement. We have you sanitize your hands and sanitize your feet before you even go anywhere. In our general way of doing things even before the coronavirus, a guest would sanitize four to five times while they were there. Then before guests leave, they sanitize again,” said Bowen.
Bowen said when Governor Holcomb tried to lump everybody together, he “missed a few.” Bowen is also upset that he didn’t mention petting zoos. She says those who work in the government see her establishment as a zoo, so she should have to stay closed until June.
“I’m not a zoo like that. I didn’t get the opportunity to pick my label. If I were being asked, ‘What am I?’, I’m an animal park. But I’m not a zoo. The only similarity is that I have animals and a zoo has animals. I am much closer to a rescue. Brown County Commissioner Diana Biddle could easily classify me as something else. She said I wasn’t a rescue, but I’m one-third rescue. I know my license says I’m a zoo because there is no other category,” Bowen said.
Bowen considered suing the government, but said that would be “futile.” Bowen said members of the Indiana coronavirus task force told her the best way to stay afloat financially during this time is to get donations.
“I walked away after reading that email thinking, ‘So I’m supposed to beg?’ That’s what the United States has come to? The way an entrepreneur is to solve their problems is to beg?” Bowen said.
Many business owners who have had to close because of the coronavirus are now wondering what the next viable option is going forward financially. Bowen has had to come to grips with that struggle. Under Governor Eric Holcomb’s reopening plan, Zoo’Opolis cannot open until June 14 at the earliest because Zoo’Opolis falls under entertainment and tourism. That is if there are no setbacks.
Bowen had to use all of her savings to rebuild the park.
“I thought, ‘All I have to do is make it until March and we’ll start making money again,’ and then I had to close. My son in Korea, who’s in the military, calls me immediately when he saw that I had to close. He said, ‘Mom, you have to need money’. He said, ‘I’ll give you $10,000,’ so he immediately transferred $10,000 into my account. Then when I went to get food stamps, I wasn’t able to get food stamps because that money is considered income.
She said the money she got from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) helped, but the loan could only to be used to cover payroll costs, rent, interest, and utilities. There were other expenses she could have spent that money on, but the PPP loan was limited.
Bowen says it’s disheartening to see other businesses in Brown County open, while she has to remain closed. She doesn’t know how much longer she can survive and hopes the recovery can come sooner rather than later.
Response to Bowen
Brown County Commissioner Diana Biddle released the following statement:
Brown County officials are not involved in any enforcement action with regard to Zoopolis Petting Zoo. The Indiana State Excise Police is tasked with enforcement of the Governor’s Executive Orders, and they are the agency that have visited her business on several occasions in the last several weeks.
Local County officials have no authority to rescind the Governor’s Executive Orders.
If you wish to voice your concerns, you should direct them to the Governor’s Office.
WIBC was told that all media-related inquiries related to COVID-19 are to go through Indiana’s Joint Information Center. The Joint Information Center issued this statement when asked about Zoo’Opolis:
As of Wednesday, May 6, the task force has investigated 1,424 complaints, of which 1,243 have been deemed unfounded, meaning the business was not open or is operating in compliance with the Executive Order. From these investigations, 137 verbal warnings have been issued and one cease and desist letter has been issued. Because these are still open investigations, we are unable to release the names of the businesses or provide specifics about cases. Thank you.