I am a bar owner.Although I qualify as a “small business owner”, I will no longer refer to myself as such. Let me say this again loud and clear: I AM A BAR OWNER. It has become evident to me during this mandatory government shut-down that, despite what is said, our government leaders do not recognize bars in the same way that they recognize every other small business in our beloved country. Don't get me wrong, here. Bars owners are recognized as "small business owners" when it comes to regulations, taxes, and anything they expect from us but bars are definitely not given the same respect and rights as any other small business. The beginning. I started noticing a decrease in business at the beginning of March. The term “social distancing” seemed to be confusing and even scaring my patrons. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the “powers that be” decided that Florida bars that did not serve food were to be the first businesses mandated to close for 30 days. The order to close my bar by 5pm happened on March 17th. It was St. Patrick’s Day and one of any bar's highest revenue generating days of the year. Although I was upset ( I cried all day), I wanted to protect my patrons, my staff, and myself from this terrible virus. I closed my bar right before our St. Patrick’s Day party. I respected our Governor’s decision that bars were an obvious source for socializing and needed to be closed in an effort to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. Closing my bar made sense. As I was driving home, I passed an Irish themed bar that serves food. The parking lot was packed and there were patrons congregated outside the venue so I could only assume that the inside of the bar was as packed as the parking lot. I could not understand why the Government mandate required my bar to close but bars that sell food could continue their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations as if nothing was happening outside their packed businesses. Why was a bar that serves food excluded from the social distancing mandate? I was told that my bar had to close to prevent groups from socializing in order to reduce the spread of the virus. The next day, the Irish bar owner posted a picture of all the empty kegs of beer that were served the night before thus confirming my assumption. This did not make sense. On March 20th, our Governor mandated that restaurants and bars that serve food had to close their dining rooms and only offer take-out and delivery options. I felt relieved as this mandate was needed to reduce the spread so this made sense. On April 1st, our Governor issued a statewide “Stay-at-home” order for 30 days, another mandate that made sense. I wanted this virus to go away and I wanted everyone to do their part as I had to reduce the spread. I wanted to reopen my bar as soon as possible and I knew that wouldn’t happen until we could get this nightmare behind us. Almost the entire month of April was a depressing blur. Being quarantined with my other half was quite an experience but that's for a separate blog post. I tried to stay busy by tackling my never ending "to do" lists which included unpacking and sorting through packed boxes from my move over 5 years ago (don't judge) and various other projects that I never seemed to have time for. Fast forward to May 4th when our Governor announced that he was reopening Florida with Phase 1 which allowed restaurants to reopen their dining rooms at a 25% capacity and with social distancing requirements of 6 feet between tables. Outdoor dining resumed with the same distance requirements. OK. Progress. I guess. I know that my bar could open under those same guidelines but bars that don't serve food were still not permitted to open. I guess it still made sense. Reopen slow and see how it goes. And here we go. During the next week, while my bar was still closed, my other half and I ventured out of our house and patronized some of the lucky restaurants that were allowed to open. I noticed that most of the places we went were abiding by the guidelines...the first week, that is. As time went by, so did the social distancing standards. I drove by restaurants and bars that were packed and clearly not keeping their patrons the mandated 6 feet apart. Bars that had outdoor seating resumed postings of their live entertainment schedules, live streaming their overcrowded venues for all of us to enjoy. Ok. Now I'm upset. Why is my bar still closed? This does not make sense. It was on Monday, May 11th, that I lost my calm. Our Governor allowed the opening of hair and nail salons. Are you kidding me, here? Being a former acrylic nail junkie, I know exactly how close you are to your nail tech. Bad breath in your face close. No personal space CLOSE. Not to mention that they are touching you the entire time. Think germ transference, for sure. I also patronize my hair salon regularly for a variety of services and, although I know it's the cleanest salon in town, I still question how a salon can be safer than a bar? How can someone touching your hair or doing your nails be safer than serving a bottled beer across a bar top? Again, this does not make sense. And here we are. On Friday, our Governor announced that restaurants could open up a 50% capacity (no difference here really...they've all been packed) and that gyms could reopen on Monday. Yes...you read that right. Gyms. Germ-laden gyms! Now, in defense of most gym's sanitary practices, I am confident that the gyms are cleaned. I am not confident, however, that every sweaty gym patron is diligent in their sanitation of each piece of equipment they use. Although I'm not a regular gym patron (obviously), I've been to gyms enough to see the sweat marks left on the seats after being used and I've personally had the disgusting experience of grabbing a wet bar after the previous patron left their sweat slime all over it. Disgusting. This does not make sense at all! I am angry.
So this Saturday we send a message to the capital. you cannot discriminate against businesses. There is NO reason to keep bars closed when you are allowing hair and nail salons open, restaurants open, retail stores open. Bar owners can operate at a reduced capacity and insure social distancing just as well as any other business.
It is time for the Governor to be fair to bar owners and employees of bars. We have been patient and we have done when we need to do. Now we are ready to get back to work and start the long recovery period. This virus has crippled bars and it will take a year or more to completely get back on track. The longer bars have to wait to open, the more damage will be done.