Tommy Bartlett Show in Wisconsin Dells is closing permanently because of business losses

Every summer for nearly seven decades, water skiers, high-speed boats and stage acts performed for an audience of thousands who watched the Tommy Bartlett Show from the shores of Lake Delton. 

This summer’s shows in Wisconsin Dells were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the Tommy Bartlett Show is canceled for good. 

“It is with great sadness that we announce the Tommy Bartlett Show will not be able to make a comeback in 2021 as we had hoped,” Tom Diehl, president and co-owner of the Tommy Bartlett Show, said in a news release Wednesday. “After 69 years, we are permanently shuttering the business.” 

The Tommy Bartlett Show said it is closing permanently because of the “catastrophic loss of business.” The water-ski, sky and stage show was canceled for the 2020 summer season because of restrictions on large gatherings during the pandemic.

“My biggest regret is that future generations will not be able to experience what this show did,” Diehl said. 

The main show brings in around 90% of the business’ revenue, Diehl said. The show typically runs from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, bringing in around 2,500 spectators every day. The show hoped it would reopen next summer for its 70th season. 

The tourism industry is among the hardest hit during the economic downturn resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. 

The show had 115 seasonal employees. The Tommy Bartlett Exploratory will remain open. The company’s seven year-round employees will not be affected at this time. 

“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,” Diehl said in the news release.

“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.”

The Tommy Bartlett Show started in 1952 as a touring water-ski exposition. It found a permanent home on the shores of Lake Delton in 1953. Diehl and his wife Margaret became co-owners with Bartlett in 1975. When Bartlett died in 1998 at age 84, the Diehls took full ownership. Diehl’s daughter planned to take over the business after her father. 

Throughout its history, more than 30 million visitors have watched one of its more than 18,700 shows. 

“The Tommy Bartlett Show has been a staple of our community for nearly 70 years and they will be dearly missed by both residents and loyal visitors,” the Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau, Inc. said in a statement. “We wish them all the best.”

The show and its namesake helped turn the Wisconsin Dells into a major tourist attraction. The city of a few thousand residents welcome in millions

Sarah Hauer can be reached at shauer@journalsentinel.com or on Instagram @HauerSarah and Twitter @SarahHauer. Subscribe to her weekly newsletter Be MKE at jsonline.com/bemke