UPDATE: The enforcement of the 10 p.m. last call time for bars and restaurants has been temporarily suspended by a lawsuit from multiple bar owners.
The Athens-Clarke County government plans to move the last call to sell alcoholic beverages from 2 a.m. to 9 p.m. starting this Friday in an effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Facebook post by Mayor Kelly Girtz. The order should be formalized this Thursday at a mayor and commission special session at 6 p.m.
The plan comes during a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state and around the nation where other states are implementing similar strategies. Governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado and Alabama have adopted similar orders, though Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has not yet done the same. In Colorado, bars and restaurants are suing the state over the order. Their last call of 10 p.m. is the earliest of the above mentioned states.
Girtz said in a message to The Red & Black it is uncertain when this order will end as the mayor and commission monitor the pandemic. Bars have been cited as spaces of increased spread of the virus and some states have had to reclose them, including Texas and Florida. Georgia’s bars, like those in other states such as Illinois, opened under particular conditions outlined by Kemp’s executive order to make the spaces safer.
The number of cases has increased by over 1,200 in Athens-Clarke County since June 1, when bars reopened.
‘A slap in the face’
After being closed for two months and reopening at the beginning of June with 39 regulations from Kemp’s orders, bars in Athens have been struggling to stay open and earn a profit.
For owners who have been in compliance with the governor’s reopening order, which includes limiting capacity to 25 people or 35% of the building’s capacity, the new order to move up the time for last call is seen as a “slap in the face.”
“Every bar and restaurant in town that I know is floating by the skin of their teeth,” Jarrod Miller, chief operating officer of Moonshine, On the Rocks and 1785 Bar and Grill, said. “Now we’re being told that we can’t even make some of the money that we weren’t making.”
Miller, whose businesses open at 9 p.m., said this is like a second shutdown and that he will have to rethink his bars’ opening times, potentially opening them up earlier and staying open until 9 p.m.
Restaurants will still be able to serve food after 9 p.m. — it is only the alcohol sales that have been restricted. However, Miller and Kim Long, one of the owners of Flicker Theatre and Bar, are concerned with the fixed expenses they still have to pay and have been paying since the pandemic hit with their limited source of income over the past couple months.
Girtz’s post said that licensed alcohol establishments will receive a refund or credit for half of the prorated monthly license fee for each month that the order remains in effect. As part of their fixed expenses, bars pay for a series of alcohol licenses ranging from $600 to $5,000 per year, depending on the type of alcohol they sell. For licenses to sell wine, beer and liquor, establishments must pay $7,000 total annually.
Nevertheless, this might not be enough to help bars with other fixed expenses such as rent, utilities and insurance. The aid that these bars applied for back in spring either may not have been delivered or has already been used up during the past four months to keep their businesses afloat.
“All of that money is gone,” Long said with regards to the aid her bar applied for back in April. “We’re just getting further and further in debt.”
Girtz also provided an update on the suggested parklet plan, where restaurants and bars would be able to serve drinks to offsite seating on sidewalks and parking spaces. The order for the plan should come next week.
The outdoor seating would allow bars and restaurants more space for more patrons in the open air where the virus is less likely to spread between individuals. Discussion of the parklets has been in the works for months, but has yet to be established, a frustration for Long and her bar.
“We’ve been bugging them since May and this was their opportunity to give us the parklets, and [they] give us the finger,” Long said.