‘That sense of freedom’: Lake of the Ozarks businesses see biggest Labor Day crowds yet

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OSAGE BEACH, Mo. — Businesses at Lake of the Ozarks say this past holiday weekend was the busiest Labor Day weekend yet. 

Videos from the lake earlier this summer went viral after two previous summer gatherings where people didn’t social distance or wearing masks. 

Business owners said those videos have helped because this past Labor Day weekend set record high crowds. 

Luke Hagedorn, general manager of Dog Days Bar and Grill, said it’s not only this past weekend that’s been busy. It’s been the entire summer. 

“We’re just seeing people all over the country really just coming to check us out because I think that’s some of the publicity that we’ve gotten,” Hagedorn said. “So many visitors here this summer it was their first time here to the Lake of the Ozarks.”

Previous videos from concerts and parties with no social distancing and no masks have grabbed national attention this summer. 

“Where our community leaders as well as the governor have kind of left it up to each individual to make their own decisions and I think people are attracted to that,” Hagedorn said. 

Hagedorn has worked at Dog Days for 16 years and said this summer has been the busiest yet. 

“Some areas around the region aren’t totally open the restrictions in other areas have kind of forced people to come down here,” Hagedorn said. “People flock to that sense of freedom and that sense of ability to do what you want to do.”

Dog Days closed in the middle of March due to pandemic. The bar and grill reopened in April for curbside and dockside service before completely reopening in May, Hagedorn said. Since reopening, he said changes have been made. 

“From increased sanitization, to keeping things off the tables, keeping everything spread out the best we can,” Hagedorn said. “Bands and events and anything we’ve done like that this summer has been outside to give everybody plenty of room.”

He said Dog Days made up the six weeks of loss revenue by the Fourth of July. 

“At one point we wondered if we could make it this far and how it would all turn out we finally made it and it’s Labor Day weekend,” Hagedorn said. “It’s been such a blur, you know sometimes it feels like it’s been like the entire summer happened in a week, and sometimes it feels like it’s taken 13 years to get through this summer.” 

Hagedorn said customers are coming from all over to enjoy the lake. 

“You check the ID’s at the door and you see ID’s from all the bordering states of course but then you see from the Carolinas,” Hagedorn said. “A lot from the west coast coming out to see us for the first time. I saw an Alaska ID for the first time this summer.”

He thinks the booming clientele is thanks to the publicity of the waterfront bars. 

“Just kind of allowing our customers to make adult decisions for themselves and that’s just kinda how we proceeded as a business and a community at large,” Hagedorn said. “We have seen some negative commentary here and there but it’s balanced out by the positives.”

Hagedorn said this is one of the best summers for businesses on the lake. 

“This year was certainly one of our busiest,” Hagedorn said. 

He said employees have their temperature checked as they come into work, and he had hand washing stations installed throughout the bar and grill. 

Lake Ozark Mayor Gerry Murawski said nearly 10 million people have visited the lake so far this year. That’s twice the number of visitors from last year and it doesn’t include this past holiday weekend’s numbers. 

Of the three counties that make up the lake — Miller, Morgan and Camden — there are currently 1,079 active cases. 

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