CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. — As standalone bars and breweries remain shut down amid coronavirus concerns, Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that would "suspend the existing license renewal deadline" through the end of the year.
The announcement comes as bar and brewery owners were on edge as their annual license fee deadlines were coming up. With the new order, bars and breweries whose license fees were previously due in September, now have until December 31, 2020 to renew their licenses.
Most Tampa Bay county fees were due in September: Citrus, Hillsborough, Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas.
“I’m expected to pay $1,820 every year to renew this license,” said Morgan Cook, the owner of Lollygaggers, The Loft Bar and Grill and Kane’s Cattle, all in Crystal River.
It’s a fee Morgan Cook figures into the budget every year. What she didn’t figure in was a forced closure and capacity set at 50 percent for businesses that are open, all as a result of a pandemic.
“I know the state has their things that they need to pay for, but we’re also being held on restrictions by the state, and every little bit helps,” said Cook.
The state’s top business regulator, Secretary Halsey Beshears, recently wrapped up meetings with representatives of bars and breweries across the state. His office says at this time, they’re not making changes to license fees.
“I’m not asking for, you know, let’s waive all our bills, just free money, I’ve asked a lot of deferring. You’re wanting us to do this during this time, why can’t you defer and let us catch up later,” said Cook.
Annual fees for bars and breweries in De Soto, Hardee, Highlands, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties, however, were all due in March.
So far, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation is not providing a time frame for reopening either, only providing this statement:
“Secretary Beshears continues to remain focused on setting a responsible path to a safe reopening as swiftly as possible. Following the recent meetings with representatives of bars and breweries across the state, Secretary Beshears is reviewing feedback and ideas from these business owners and considering options for a sensible plan forward. While no timeframe for reopening is certain, Secretary Beshears understands the urgency advocated by business owners in these recent meetings.”
Bars and breweries were forced to close for a second time on June 26 after only being reopened for a few weeks.
“There’s nothing for us to look forward to, to even be able to make those decisions, so a lot of bar owners are pretty much trying to operate til their last penny not knowing what tomorrow will bring,” said Cook.
Cook says she and other bar owners are not looking for an exact date from Secretary Beshears, but that some sort of timeline would be helpful.
Below is a copy of the executive order signed by Gov. DeSantis Friday: