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'It's Going To Hurt': Bar Owners, Employees Scramble For A Plan As State Orders Closures

Ryan Dailey

Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Tuesday closing bars and nightclubs statewide for 30 days. WFSU spoke with one bar owner who’s grappling with the uncertainty of her employees’ livelihoods.

“This morning when I got the news saying (DeSantis) was going to do it, my first reaction was – I broke down and started crying,” said Lora Lowe, who has owned the Palace Saloon on Jackson Bluff Road for 12 years.

Now, Lowe is having to scramble for a plan to take care of her 11 employees as the state has shuttered her bar and all others in Florida for a month.

“I have employees that I take care of their health insurance,” Lowe said as patrons filed into the bar for their last chance at a drink at Palace for a month. “And they get a paycheck and they make tips – how are they going to pay their rent, how are they going to buy groceries?”

Lowe plans to apply for the state’s emergency bridge loans for small businesses, which are interest-free up to one year with a maximum loan amount of $50,000. The loan program was opened by Governor Ron DeSantis this week. It’s one more thing for Lowe to think about as she prepares for the month ahead.

Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
Palace Saloon owner Lora Lowe talks about Governor Ron DeSantis executive order March 17, 2020 closing all bars in the state for 30 days.

“I told my employees don’t worry about covering their insurance, I would take care of and pay for their insurance, that we would find a way. Gov. DeSantis put out a thing saying there’s a loan that they can give out to businesses that you have to pay back interest- free, and if I can do that, I will,” Lowe said.

When it comes to how Lowe is processing the news – it’s complicated. Fears about the public health risks of the COVID-19 virus hit close to home for her:

“I’m 50/50 on this whole thing, because my mom has had cancer for the last 5 years, so she’s done her last round of chemo a couple weeks ago. And my dad is in his 70’s, so I understand that for the elderly, we have to be careful with them.”

Still, Lowe questions why businesses like hers have been shuttered when others can continue operating, but under stringent rules. Restaurants are ordered to limit dine-in customers to 50 percent of capacity, and seat patrons six feet apart.

“The Palace is mostly young people, college kids – and if the restaurants and businesses are allowed to stay at 50 percent capacity, why can’t we? I mean, we can make it to where we only have 50 percent of people in here at a time,” Lowe said. “Because, bottom line, it’s going to hurt. We’re trying to figure out what to do that we can help our employees and pay the bills.”

On Tuesday, when the executive order was announced, Lowe kept the Palace Saloon open until 5 p.m., as long as she could, on what would have been its Saint Patrick’s Day celebration.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.