Business owners happy about easing of restrictions, but ask for more reopening steps
The easing of COVID-19 socioeconomic restrictions in North Carolina had several Triad business owners and operators expressing gratefulness, but also longing for more.
The headliner of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order No. 194 was ending the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. statewide stay-at-home order at 5 p.m. Friday.
The restrictions were put in place by Cooper to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Most key COVID-19 metrics — in particular cases, hospitalizations and positive test rates — have been trending down most of February. The main exception remains COVID-19 related deaths.
The broadness of Cooper’s relaxing of public gathering restrictions has garnered the most local attention.
For example, there were plenty of commentators on Cooper’s decision to allow bars, lounges, night clubs and taverns to have indoor patrons for the first time since the pandemic began. They can expand to 30% capacity with a cap of 250 individuals.
On-premises alcohol sales is now allowed until 11 p.m., whether at a bar or restaurant, or by a vendor.
It still irks John Tate that bars remain limited to 30% indoor capacity while breweries, wineries and restaurants that serve adult beverages can be at 50% indoor capacity.
Tate has ownership in two Winston-Salem bars — Tate’s Craft Cocktails on Fourth Street and Bar Piña, off Trade Street. Tate plans to reopen Tate’s next weekend, while he will wait on warmer weather in a few weeks for Bar Pina.
“Private bars should be open at full parity with all other permit holders that have been operating as bars since the first stay-at-home order was lifted,” Tate said.
“All because of an administrative categorization, not because there’s something inherently different about our spaces or what’s in the glass.”
“We’ll continue to advocate for our staff and both bars to be able to operate under the same parameters as all other on-premise ABC establishments,” Tate said.
Yet, Tate sees a glass half-full perspective in that “the prospect of having people in our bars is incredibly exciting and a good step forward.”
From a financial prospective, Tate said operating at 30% of capacity “is tough since about 75% of our week’s volume comes in a short window of time over the weekend.”
“Running at 30% capacity doesn’t translate to 30% of our normal weekly take, probably more like 15%-20%. I expect this will be compounded by additional expenses to help keep our staff and guests safe.
“All that said, bar owners are an adaptable group by nature and even in normal times our job description is 90% ‘figure it out,'”
Small, positive step
Tiffany Howell is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in December by the N.C. Bar Owners Association that targets Cooper’s executive orders related to COVID-19 restrictions on bars.
Despite Cooper’s decision, Howell said the association’s plan is to proceed with the complaint filed in Carteret County Superior Court.
Howell owns Burke Street Pub at 1110 Burke St. and Tee Time Sports & Spirits at 3040 Healy Drive.
Being able to have 30% indoor occupancy is “a far cry from being treated as equals to the other ABC establishments, restaurants, breweries, etc., that have been open at 50% indoors since May,” Howell said.
“30% is not enough, but a small step in the right direction.”
Howell said she’s encouraged that Cooper signed House Bill 4 into law Thursday.
Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law Thursday a state House bill that extends for bars the payment deadline for certain ABC permit renewals. The bill had unanimous support in both chambers. The legislation is effective retroactively to June 30.
Bipartisan House Bill 73, which has Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, as a co-primary sponsor, would waive permit fees from May 1, 2021, to April 30, 2022. The bill would become effective when signed into law.
The bill cleared the House Alcohol Beverage Council committee Wednesday and was forwarded to Finance committee.
The bill would cover 13 types of permits: on-premises malt beverage; on-premises unfortified wine; on-premises fortified wine; mixed beverages; culinary; mixed beverages catering; guest room cabinet; wine tasting; wine shop; malt beverage tasting; spirituous liquor tasting; antique spirituous liquor; and common area entertainment.
“We hope to continue to gain support in the General Assembly, as we have with ABC permit fee relief efforts of HB4 and HB73, to get targeted direct relief for the private bar industry,” Howell said.
Jamie Bartholomaus, co-owner of Foothills Brewing, said he “doesn’t anticipate a lot of change regarding the level of (customer) flow at any given time.
“But, opening later lets our customers enjoy our retail establishments a little longer and not have to rush out.
“As we have ample space and seating in our restaurant, and Footnote our coffee shop that serves as overflow room, we are extremely excited to be able to serve our patrons and community with a slightly greater sense of normalcy,” Bartholomaus said.
The easing of COVID-19 restrictions allows certain indoor venues to expand to 30% capacity with a cap of 250 individuals.
Those also include movie theaters, sports arenas, meeting, reception and conference spaces, indoor areas of amusement parks and entertainment facilities, such as bingo parlors and gaming establishments.
Businesses that can go to 50% occupancy include retailers, gyms, bowling alleys, aquariums, museums, pools, personal care services, such as barbers, hair salons and tattoo parlors, and outdoor amusement parks.
“Naturally, we are excited for the opportunity to bring more bikes into the theater,” said Dixon Douglas, studio owner of the CycleBar location in downtown Winston-Salem.
Douglas said he is being deliberate in responding to Cooper’s decision.
“Our next steps are to appropriately measure out our studio and add the bikes that we can,” Douglas said.
“It may not be 50% from the start, but something we gradually build toward. We want to take a conservative approach as we focus on what is best for our guests and the studio.”
Douglas said being a reopening option for social interactions, in a safe environment, is his main focus.
“COVID has played havoc on Winston-Salem, and we want to be that safe place where our guests can walk out knowing that everything is going be OK,” he said.
“While COVID has been extremely tough and taxing, the silver linings have been ones to remember.”
The YMCA of Northwest N.C. considers the decision to move from 30% to 50% capacity as “a testament to the great work of Ys across our area and state to safely serve those when they need us the most.”
“We are excited to be able to welcome more people back.”
Cooper cautioned that the easing of restrictions is fragile and dependent on the current COVID-19 metrics at least stabilizing, if not continuing to improve.
“Today’s action is a show of confidence and trust, but we must remain cautious. People are losing their loved ones each day,” Cooper said.
“We must keep up our guard. Many of us are weary, but we cannot let the weariness win.
“Now is the time to put our strength and resilience to work so that we can continue to turn the corner and get through this.”
Being open at 50% indoor capacity may not be what many retailers want, but it should help make staying open more viable in the interim, said Mark Owens, president and chief executive of Greater Winston-Salem Inc.
“This new phase of North Carolina’s reopening effort is a positive step, and a sign that efforts to slow the spread are working,” Owens said.
“This phase is particularly important because it affects so many of our businesses in the most-impacted sectors — sports, music, the arts, family entertainment, gyms, and more.
“These are the types of venues that build community and some of the ones that the public has been missing the most,” Owens said.
Owens is stressing to members that they must remain diligent in following guidelines “to ensure that this phase and future reopening efforts continue to be successful.”
“These new guidelines really change the playing field for businesses that rely on in-person gatherings,” Owens said.
“So many of these businesses are small, independently owned enterprises.
“As long as everyone does it in a safe manner, we can keep moving forward.”