Lipsky’s uses marquee to publicly shame customers who have outstanding bills
DYCKESVILLE – Seeing your name displayed prominently on a marquee is pleasing if you’re a movie star or rock band.
Seeing your name displayed prominently on the marquee at Lipsky’s Bar in Dyckesville, however, is — quite literally — a bad sign.
It means you owe money to co-owners Todd and Andrea Lloyd. And they’re using every legal means in their power, including public shaming, to get people to pay up.
“We’re 2-0,” Todd Lloyd said of his successful first two swings at settling overdue bills by identifying the deadbeats to every customer or passing motorist on County DK.
Lloyd is trying to make it three straight victories.
Instead of announcing happy-hour times or the latest specials on the Lipsky’s marquee, he’s now calling out a Door County man for allegedly writing a $100 bad check nearly seven years ago that also cost the business a $10 bank charge for insufficient funds.
The sign names the check writer, then goes on to say: “Come pay your outstanding bill. Mar. 2011.” It’s not all tough talk, though, as Lloyd punctuates the message with a “Thank you!”
“People love it,” Lloyd said. “There’s nobody, honest to God, who said ‘You’re carrying this too far. I think you’re wrong.’ Not one. In fact, I pick up new customers every week or two who get a chuckle out of it (passing by) and then come on in to see what it’s all about.”
Lipsky’s On The Bay, a fixture in Dyckesville since 1952, includes the water-side tavern and adjacent 17-unit motel with a sand beach; and, across County DK, a restaurant famous for its fire-baked pizza and summer Jamaican cookouts.
Boaters and snowmobilers alike can pull up to enjoy any or all three. The Lloyds have owned the business for 17 years.
Scofflaws can take solace in one fact. After the widening and rerouting of State 57 in 2006, Lipsky’s no longer sits along the heavily traveled state highway route through Dyckesville, visible to hundreds of thousands of tourists headed to the Door Peninsula each year.
The current shaming
The 38-year-old man whose name is now on the sign has racked up a list of criminal felony, misdemeanor, traffic and local ordinance violations in Door and Kewaunee counties, most of them between 2000 and 2012. He encountered the Lloyds at Lipsky’s on March 12, 2011, according to court records.
“My wife’s writing is on the check, but I couldn’t tell you in full confidence if he stayed (and spent money with us),” Todd Lloyd said. “The educated guess would be no, he wasn’t a regular.”
The check came back as a closed account.
Lloyd did not pursue the man through the courts. He thought it would be a hassle, including crafting a certified letter to the check-writer, with little hope of a return.
“My lawyer advises that I can’t say (on the marquee) that we got bad checks from a person (if there’s no conviction),” Lloyd said. “So, we say there’s a bill, but we can legally not accept checks from them in the future.”
The Door County man’s name went on the marquee last September, after which he paid $20 and promised another $20 every two weeks on his paydays.
“We haven’t seen him since,” Lloyd said.
The man told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin that he fully intends to pay up when he returns from a seasonal layoff in his current job. Not surprisingly, he dislikes the attention but concedes that it will get the desired effect.
“I’m sick of my name being up there; it was seven years ago,” he said. “Wintertime is a tough time in my job. I can’t afford to run to Dyckesville right now; I can barely pay the rent in winter. But I do have plans on paying him to get my name cleared.
“It’s going to take all of next summer to get (that and) my restitution paid.”
The man declined to say where he’s living now, except that it’s on the Door Peninsula. He said he’s currently employed in delivery and installation for a Door County business.
The man’s boss said he and the man’s co-workers are aware of his record and of the unflattering publicity in Dyckesville, but that the company hasn’t received any blowback. In fact, the owner said, the man regularly receives compliments from customers.
“I don’t drink now,” the man said. “I just live my life, work and go home. Some people do change their ways.”
His record is also relatively clean since 2012 compared to earlier years. He said his wages are being garnished for court-ordered restitution in other cases in which he was involved. In Wisconsin, restitution is collected by district attorney’s offices or probation agents (or, in rare cases, from behind bars if the inmate can afford it).
But if there’s no conviction, merchants or other victims are on their own to get a court judgment that often costs more than the amount being pursued.
Although the man’s been convicted of worthless checks eight times in Kewaunee County, Lloyd would have had to pursue any charges through Brown County, a more urbanized county with bigger fish to fry.
Dyckesville, an unincorporated community of just over 500 residents, straddles the Door-Kewaunee county line and Lipsky’s Bar is actually on the Brown County side, according to a Kewaunee County dispatcher. Either way, Lloyd wasn’t hopeful of an outcome through formal channels that would get him his money.
“Even in Kewaunee County, there’s fires around here, thefts, domestic abuse, drugs,” Lloyd said. “I knew (the authorities) weren’t going to hunt this guy down for $110.”
So, Lloyd chose a totally free method of debt collection, using a forum he can control.
‘I’m going to keep this up’
Although Lloyd said he has a “long list of people who’ve taken advantage of our generosity,” he said he still considers it good, though risky, business to cash personal checks, run tabs or otherwise help out folks who are short on money.
He told the story of a couple who gave him $25 worth of rolled pennies in exchange for $25 cash — and they wound up spending all of it in the bar, plus $14 more they entered with.
“Oddly enough, we still do it, but we’re more selective,” Lloyd said. “Ninety-nine out of 100 people appreciate it and spend money with us. It just takes one bad apple to spoil the bag.”
Lloyd said he’s been told the public humiliation tactic he’s using would be illegal in neighboring Michigan.
But online research reveals not only that public shaming isn’t against the law anywhere in the nation, but judges themselves are increasingly using so-called “creative sentences” such as wrongdoers proclaiming their sins on sandwich boards, bumper stickers and the like. The practice is allowed as long as the punishment is not unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual,” like putting people in stocks in the public square centuries ago.
Michigan has wrestled in recent years with the constitutional muster of some practices that could be seen as shaming, such as sex-offender registration for people convicted before it went into effect. Another is parents or others publicly shaming children as discipline, and whether it caused “mental harm” that could meet the legal definition of child abuse across the lake.
But the Lloyds’ more benign strategy wouldn’t appear to raise legal eyebrows anywhere.
“Absolutely, I’m going to keep this up as long as necessary,” Todd Lloyd said. “I’m a very stubborn person, and I’m not going to let this go.”
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Lipsky's uses marquee to publicly shame customers who have outstanding bills