‘There was zero probability going forward’: Tommy Bartlett Show to permanently close after 69 years

WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. — After nearly seven decades, the Tommy Bartlett Show in Wisconsin Dells announced Wednesday it will close permanently due to business losses during the pandemic.

In April, the owners of the water-ski, sky and stage show made the decision to close its attraction this summer due to restrictions on large gatherings.

President and co-owner Tom Diehl said he thought the closure would be temporary. They had plans to open next summer for its 70th season.

“I was hoping back in April that this would be over in July or early August. Not only is it not over, it’s gotten worse,” said Diehl.

He said in business the best thing to do is not make emotional decisions.

“Uncertainty is the biggest detriment to business,” said Diehl. “You can’t make a decision because you’ve been here 54 years and the show’s been here 69 years. You can’t make a decision (on that), it has to be based on probability of success. And to me there was zero probability going forward.”

The company made the announcement in a press release Wednesday morning.

“From May through September 6, we experienced a complete loss of revenue when we had to cancel our 2020 summer season on Lake Delton due to the pandemic. Each fall, we begin to plan for the next season, and with so much uncertainty surrounding the future of the pandemic and travel, we cannot undergo additional financial risk and investment to begin planning for summer 2021. While we are grateful that we have had almost seven decades of entertaining visitors in Wisconsin Dells, we have no choice but to close the Show,” Diehl said in a statement.

Downtown Wisconsin Dells business owners were saddened by the news.

“They’ve just been unbelievably generous with our community, our schools, giving free entertainment and busing to shows year after year. It’s sad to see them go,” said Tara Anchor, one of the owners of Winnebago Gift Shop. “With one of those big icons missing it’ll be interesting, somebody in the entertainment business will have big shoes to fill.”

Diehl said he made the announcement now in order to try to sell the property.

The release said 115 seasonal employees lost their jobs when the show was canceled this summer. The show employs seven year-round staffers, many of whom the release said had been with the show for decades.

The Tommy Bartlett Show had more than 18,700 shows throughout its history.