RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper’s Phase 3 order has brought little relief to bars and clubs across the state, which have been closed under the governor’s various COVID-19 orders for almost seven months.
Of the 7,000 or more bars in the state, roughly 1,000 are still closed under Phase 3.
Chemistry Nightclub owner Drew Wofford says officials in the Greensboro area have been lenient with letting certain clubs operate if they have food service capabilities. He said that his club has been open “unofficially” since July since his operation had served food in the past and could make that transition. Wofford said that without that restaurant capacity he would have been out of business months ago.
Wofford said that aside from his club’s situation, for many of the bars and clubs in the state, “Phase 3 is just as much of a death sentence to bars as Phase 2 was.”
Bars and taverns were ordered to close on March 17 due to the pandemic. By May 22, restaurants with bars in them, as well as bars in wineries, distilleries and breweries, were allowed to reopen.
The governor continued to keep private bars closed under Phase 2 and its multiple extensions. Under Phase 3, bars can open up 30% of their patio space if they have one.
North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association (NCBATA) President Zack Medford called Phase 3 “a slap in the face” and says the 30% outdoor-only reopening was “pointless.”
In a statement on Facebook, NCBATA said that “Gov. Roy Cooper had a chance to do the right thing today and give North Carolina bar owners a chance to survive. Instead, he chose an unworkable path.”
The NCBATA statement also said that “90% of the bars in North Carolina can’t possibly afford to open under this new guidance” and that many have “no outdoor seating at all.”
Wofford said the patio limitations on capacity aren’t worth it in many cases, adding that unless the bar is granted an exception by a municipality, that 30% capacity ends up being around “seven people per 1,000 square feet.” In order to cover staff, pay and overhead, NCBATA’s statement also said that it is “virtually impossible” to pay for staff and operate with fewer than 20 customers.
“To have 20 customers, a bar would need to have at least 60 seats outside, or 3,000 square feet of patio space. Out of 93 bars surveyed by the N.C. Bar and Tavern Association, only six qualify to have more than 20 customers. Fifty-nine have a dozen outside seats or fewer,” NCBATA’s statement says.
In addition to small customer capacity, fall weather is here, and temperatures are dropping at night making patio arrangements less attractive.
“Why would a customer want to sit on the patio of a bar to drink a beer in 45-degree weather when I can go into a brewery or restaurant and do it inside?” Wofford asked.
“We are not looking for any special treatment. We are not looking for anything unreasonable. We’re just looking to be the same [as other bars],” said Wofford. He later added that if other bar establishments get to operate at 50% capacity, so should private bars and clubs.
NCBATA’s Facebook page also includes several videos highlighting bars that are still closed and on the brink of staying closed for good.
“Please, please — we need to open. Our community needs us to open,” pleads Michael, the owner of Jeff’s Bucket Shop, a karaoke bar that has been operating for 17 years in the SouthPark area of Charlotte.
Frazier’s Tavern in Asheville has operated since 1986 and is now on the verge of closing. In a video on the NCBATA page, the owners of Frazier’s say they’ve gone through all of their savings and their employees have had to find other work.
Wofford also questioned why no one pressures the governor on his COVID-19 conference calls.
“He makes these ludicrous statements in press conferences like ‘a brewery can stay open because they have high ceilings’… What?” Wofford exclaimed. “Why don’t any of the reporters call him out on it?”
North State Journal previously reported on certain outlets being shut out of question and answer sessions by the Cooper administration due to the use of a call system called “Maestro Conference.” March 27 was the last call date that NSJ was allotted a question for the governor. The last in-person media briefing Cooper held was on March 20.
Bar and tavern owners held protests in Raleigh and Charlotte in September. Another “Save Our Bars” rally is planned for Thursday, Oct. 15 outside of the governor’s mansion in Raleigh.