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Tallahassee Bar Owners Speak On Business Environment During Pandemic

Man drinking beer and smoking cigarette at pub in the night
Adobe Stock
Man drinking beer and smoking cigarette at pub in the night

Bars throughout Florida are opening their doors this week for full service. In an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the state government had limited bars without a restaurant license to serving alcohol for off-premise drinking only. That rule has been repealed, but getting by in the meantime has been hard for a few Tallahassee establishments.

"The initial shutdown order was 30 days. Honestly, I half believed that it probably wouldn’t go thirty days they’d probably rescind it after a couple of weeks. That ended up running 80 days," said Bill Hasselback owner of Leon Pub.

"The second shutdown, they just rescinded that on Monday. But they did have a loophole for places that did have a restaurant license to open on July 2."

Hasselback used that loophole to his advantage.

"I was speaking with an attorney friend of mine I said well we have a restaurant license, what are we," said Hasselback. "He says well if I were you I’d go buy a bunch of potato chips just in case."

So he listened.

“We’ve got some assorted salty snacks, and then sweet snacks and we got some Hot Pockets, five flavors I believe," said Hasselback.

He says he’s glad he was able to open sooner than bars without a restaurant license, but it’s still been difficult scraping by with a global pandemic looming.

"Honestly it’s been tough. People are scared of the virus, people are broke, they’re out of work. We’ve had some traffic, we’ve lost a lot of regulars I think who were hiding out, picked up some new ones," said Hasselback. "We’re just hoping we’re on the downside of this and it’s starting to get back a little closer to normal."

Lora Lowe owns a smoke-friendly bar called the Palace Saloon.

"We’ve had to at our own expense add extra employees on. Because I have one employee who does nothing but temperature check and keeps a headcount," said Lowe.

Lowe also used a restaurant license to stay open, but she says keeping her employees and customers safe hasn’t been easy. State rules limit how many people can be in bars and restaurants. Temperature checks aren’t required, but Lowe says she believes the extra step helps assure customers they are taking things seriously.

"I think ­us being so hard on people a lot of people do appreciate it," said Lowe. "But some people they just don’t understand and they’re just going to do what they want anyways."

Many bar owners hope the recent rule change will send a signal to customers that it’s okay to go out for a drink or two. But in Leon County, the change comes as coronavirus s cases among college-aged people are on the rise. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to urge caution whenever participating in social activities. Some of the tips the agency recommends include wearing a mask as much as possible and limiting the number of people you come in contact with.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.