Charlotte bar owners rally to protest outdoor-only seating, other reopening rules

Shaniqua Juliano

Bar owners and their supporters held a rally in uptown Charlotte Thursday afternoon over Wednesday’s statewide Phase 3 reopening announcement. Load Error Bars, which have been closed for half of the year because of the coronavirus pandemic, are allowed to reopen at 5 p.m. Friday but at 30% capacity and […]

Bar owners and their supporters held a rally in uptown Charlotte Thursday afternoon over Wednesday’s statewide Phase 3 reopening announcement.

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Bars, which have been closed for half of the year because of the coronavirus pandemic, are allowed to reopen at 5 p.m. Friday but at 30% capacity and with outdoor seating only, Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday.

The North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association, an industry advocacy group, said the seating restrictions are “pointless.”

“This is a slap in the face,” said NCBATA President Zack Medford in a statement to the Observer after Wednesday’s announcement.

“A punch in the throat,” Michaele Laria, co-owner of Jeff’s Bucket Shop on Montford Drive, said Thursday.

The state group held a “Save Our Bars Charlotte” rally with speakers at the federal courthouse in Charlotte.

Organizers are urging North Carolina’s leaders to stand up for the 1,063 private bars “being forced out of existence,” according to an event post online.

Medford said 90% of bars can’t afford to reopen under the new state guidelines.

“Many have no outdoor seating at all,” he said.

Laria said she received a hundred text messages after Cooper’s announcement from supporters offering congratulations and saying they looked forward to visiting Jeff’s Bucket Shop on Friday. The bar could accommodate only 25 people outside under the restrictions, so it can’t open, Laria said.

What’s all the more galling: Laria’s husband drives for Uber to keep them afloat, and he often drops off passengers at “bars” that are allowed to be open because they serve food.

Michael Sharpton, manager of Scorpio in west Charlotte, plans to be at the rally. He said the governor and health officials have failed to give bars the same opportunity to adjust business models to meet COVID-19 safety requirements.

“We just need visibility and to build public awareness about how private bars have been treated in North Carolina,” Sharpton said.

Sharpton said the bar opened in 1968 on Freedom Drive and is a mainstay in Charlotte’s LGBTQ community. Using only the bar’s patio would cost more than staying closed.

He said the state also has failed to provide financial relief to small businesses that remain closed, and the federal Paycheck Protection Program loan ran out “long ago.”

“This is an unfortunate situation for everyone,” Sharpton said. “Our main goal is to keep our employees and customers safe, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes … but we haven’t been given that option.”

He referred to the bar association’s proposal as a safe way to reopen.

“All we need is an opportunity to open like the other sectors of the food and beverage industry,” he said.

What they want

The industry advocacy group would like to see bars be allowed to open at 50% percent capacity with indoors seating “just like our competitors.”

According to the executive order, the risk of spreading COVID-19 is higher at bars because people are less cautious when drinking alcohol and tend to mingle for extended periods of time.

Medford points out that his group has a reopening proposal plan that includes requiring bars to observe social distancing of 6 feet between groups, requiring customers to be seated and installing table seating in large open areas or dance floors.

The reopen plan also includes designating an order area at the bar and requiring face masks unless customers are eating or drinking.

Along with sanitation and cleaning measures, bars also would be required to use contact tracing. Bars would keep a list of names and phone numbers for employees and customers daily. The list would be kept for 60 days to allow for contact tracing should an infected person be found to have visited the facility, according to the group’s plan.

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©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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