For establishments across North Carolina, it’s still closing time.
Last Friday, citing concerns that it would hamper the ability of state leaders to respond quickly to COVID-19, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would reopen stand-alone bars.
House Bill 536 would have been a legislative runaround of Phase Two, Gov. Cooper’s plan to gradually reopen the state’s economy, by allowing bars to join restaurants, breweries, wineries and distilleries in reopening, while also doubling restaurants’ seating capacity. The bill passed 42-5 in the Senate and 65-53 in the House.
When Phase Two was launched on May 22, restaurants, breweries, wineries and distilleries were allowed to reopen, but privately owned bars remained closed. Phase Two is scheduled to last at least until June 26.
In a statement, Cooper explained his veto.
“State and local government leaders must be able to act quickly during the COVID-19 emergency to prevent a surge in cases that could overwhelm hospitals and harm the public,” he said.
As the Republican controlled General Assembly decides whether or not to pursue an override of the Democratic governor’s veto, many bar owners are not accepting Gov. Cooper’s reasoning.
The North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association, a group of 185 bar owners, have filed a lawsuit against the governor, WRAL-TV reported, even as the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported a spike of 1,370 laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases on Saturday.
Jamie Starks, owner of East Charlotte bar Tommy’s Pub, questions why establishments like his are still shuttered, while similar businesses are not.
“I’ve heard all kinds of excuses,” Starks said Monday. “[The governor] says liquor is not good … because people are less apt to abide by the terms of social distancing and safe practices when they drink liquor as compared to beer.”
“And then what does he do? He opens up distilleries. You can go to a distillery and drink their mixed beverages and shots, but you can’t do that in a private bar,” Starks offered. “He’s contradicting everything he stands for.”
Perry Fowler, who owns Charlotte bar Petra’s, reasoned that bars should be allowed to reopen when breweries and restaurants that serve alcohol are already open, but he questioned the wisdom of reopening at all at this point in a pandemic.
“The question should be why are they allowed to open? Not why am I not allowed to open,” Fowler said Monday. At the same time, he acknowledged that it’s hard to walk the line between public safety and business solvency.
“I might not personally feel safe eating in a restaurant or drinking at a bar,” Fowler said, “but we can’t afford to stay closed forever without any revenue or assistance.”
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