Too little, too late? Bar owners react to Gov. Cooper’s Phase 3

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Governor Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that North Carolina will move into Phase 3 of COVID-19 reopening on Friday, allowing some businesses to reopen for the first time since March.

Starting at 5:00 p.m. Friday, movie theaters, outdoor amusement parks, and smaller outdoor entertainment venues can operate at 30 percent capacity or 100 guests, whichever is fewer. Large outdoor venues with seating greater than 10,000 may operate with seven percent occupancy.

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Friday also marks 199 days since bars across our state have been closed. They too will be allowed to reopen, although many might not qualify under Phase 3 restrictions.

Bars will not be able to allow customers inside, only opening outdoor areas at 30 percent capacity. Bars without a stated outdoor capacity can only allow seven customers per 1,000 square feet.

Many bar owners are not happy with this caveat.

“This was mostly a symbolic opening and nothing else,” said Tinyz Tavern owner Jason Ruth.

Ruth says this limits his ability to be able to open at all. Tinyz Tavern does not have an outdoor area, and its location within a strip mall prevents it from expanding into the parking lot.

“To put that in perspective, if you had a basketball court you could four picnic tables on the entire basketball court,” he said. “So for most places in North Carolina, including this location, there is no option to open outside.”

Ruth believes bars should have the same opportunity to reopen safely that other businesses are being granted.

“85 percent of alcohol permitees are open in the State of North Carolina, including restaurant bars, hotel bars, Elks Lodge, Moose Lodge, adult entertainment clubs, party buses can now operate,” Ruth said. “But the 1,063 of us are now the only businesses in North Carolina that cannot have customers inside their facilities.”

Katherine Pryor, owner of The Palm Room in Wrightsville Beach, agrees.

“He is doing this just to appease people and to say that he’s letting us open,” Pryor said.

She says it’s costing her a minimum of $10,000 a month to stay closed.

“There’s multiple restaurants that I’ve seen that have been elbow to elbow and not adhering to the guidelines,” Pryor said. “Not to throw anybody under the bus, but they’re just taking our customers, basically.”

With less than 48 hours before Phase 3 goes into effect, Pryor is scrambling to convert a small area out back of the bar into a place where customers can be served. This area is likely less than 1,000 square feet.

“Maybe the bartender can make some money,” Pryor said. “But it doesn’t pay any of our bills.”

Click here to view the Phase 3 executive order.