Chase Palmes, owner of St. Johns Tavern in Crystal River, said he will not close his Crystal River tavern in the wake of Friday’s state directive to ban alcohol consumption at bars.
He doesn’t believe he has to and he questions the logic. Palmes said he can't understand why the state seems to be blaming restaurants and bars for the rise in state coronavirus virus spikes.
“I’m staying open until the state makes me shut down,” he said. “I’m considering myself a tavern and a restaurant that happens to sell beer and liquor.”
Palmes said the state is crippling the restaurants and bars and is singling them out while keeping big-box stores open.
“First they shut us down for two months, then open us up at 25% capacity,” he said. “That didn’t pay because of the overhead. Now we're at 50% and we (already) have our hands tied behind our back. Now they’re choking us.”
The fireworks started late morning Friday, June 26, 2020, when Halsey Beshears, secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, fired off a tweet saying that effective immediately, the department is suspending on premises consumption of alcohol at bars statewide.
This comes on the heels of a spike in COVID-19 cases statewide and reports statewide of establishments not following previous directives.
The directive was later clarified: "Vendors who are also licensed as public food service establishments or ‘restaurants’ (may) continue to operate for on-premises consumption of food and beverages at tables.”
But only so long, the directive said, as those establishments “derive 50% or less of gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption.”
The 50% capacity and social distancing at all restaurants/bars remain in place.
Nimoy Thakkar, owner of Sparrow’s Tavern in Citrus Springs, said he lost up to $50,000 in revenue the three months he was closed. He opened and followed all safety protocols and now he’s being asked to close again.
This makes no sense, said Thakkar, long-time county businessman, especially when other retailers are allowed to stay open.
“Let the people decide how they want to live and how they want to spend their time and what businesses to support,” said Thakkar, who has supported many community events.
Morgan Sundberg, owner of Kane's Cattle Co., The Loft Bar & Grill and Lollygaggers Sports Pub & Grill, said this latest directive will not affect her because all of her establishments exceed the 51-49 split — 51% of her sales are food-based and they qualify as restaurants.
Sundberg said she objects to the way this came out as a tweet with no prior or formal communication.
“I do find it extremely unprofessional for Halsey to go with Twitter on that,” he said.
Josh Wooten, president/CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, rushed a statement to the chamber’s Facebook page: “We understand how frustrating this is to some and we want to assure you that your chamber is working diligently to get additional stimulus payments to affected businesses.”
Wooten said this latest action has added urgency to a letter he sent to County Commission Chairman Brian Coleman to call an emergency meeting to approve the application for the CARES Small Business grants “so that we can get the money into the hands of those who need it so desperately.”
The grants total up to $7,500 to businesses with 35 full-time employees or less that were forced to close during the first phase of the pandemic.
The money comes from the federal CARES Act, which provides funding for businesses hurt by the shutdown. Citrus received $6.5 million. Wooten is asking commissioners to fast-track the final vote on the application for the grants.