TAMPA, Fla. -- Pictures showing the outside of a Ybor nightclub on its grand reopening Thursday is drawing rage and concern. They show people waiting shoulder-to-shoulder to get inside.
Management of the Tangra Nightclub is responding and tell ABC Action News the pictures don't show the full story.
The images started getting traction on social media. Tom DeGeorge is the owner of the Crowbar, a music venue, in Ybor. He's a vocal business owner who doesn't hold back on the careful balancing act between responsibly reopening, criticizing state agencies on its enforcement of shutdown rules from the governor's office, and the need for local and state funding to keep businesses afloat during this pandemic. He's also a leader of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA).
His post, showing a picture of the crowd outside the Tangra, drew ire in the comments section by the hundreds.
Ben Wax, is the owner of an across the street vintage clothing store, La France. He said he felt a mixture of anger, frustration and sadness when he saw the crowds firsthand.
“My biggest concern is, ultimately, people getting sick," said Wax. "How is that not everyone's biggest concern right now, people getting hurt from this?"
As a small business owner himself, Wax says he understands the financial strife so many are going through right now. He says it's incredibly difficult for business owners to figure out how to reopen, pay rent, keep the lights on and pay their employees. For Wax, witnessing so many small businesses trying to reopen with a focus on responsibility made seeing those crowds outside the Tangra harder.
“Very frustrating when you see a lot of people making a lot of sacrifices," he said. "To see that it’s hard to not take it as a slap in the face."
Corey Cane, the general manager at Tangra, opened the club's doors to ABC Action News, in an effort to show how seriously they take COVID-19 and customer trust. Cane showed us the gallons of hand sanitizer, the masks and face shields, the spaced seats that will be measured by security daily, the curtains to separate the booths, the Plexiglas barriers keeping the bartenders in a bubble away from customers. He says they've spent thousands of dollars on converting their business.
“You won’t find this anywhere in Ybor," he said while pointing at the Plexiglas. "We have this on all three floors, even our outdoor bar.”
Cane says, on their first night back after a six-month shutdown, they tried their best to keep control outside. He says staff repeatedly told people to not crowd around the queue line they marked off with yellow, metal barriers but people continued to congregate on the narrow sidewalk.
“We can control so much inside. We can control almost everything inside but controlling stuff outside is the hardest part," said Kane.
The club's capacity is 600 people. Cane says they allowed 300 people inside Thursday night staying at 50% capacity. ABC Action News reached out to Tampa Police who said they did a compliance check after 11 p.m. and found Tangra stuck to the 50% limit for reopening.
On Monday, Governor Ron DeSantis allowed bars and breweries to reopen at that 50% capacity. Tangra was already in the process of getting its food license, as a way to reopen, when the news came down a week prior. Cane says they will keep the license.
Cane also finds the pictures did not tell the full story.
"When I say that we moved people in a little faster than what you saw in a picture — that’s really how it went. As the night went by our line was a lot different than what you saw in that one initial picture right when we opened up our doors.”
He says part of the problem is staff cuts due to the pandemic and how time-consuming it is for any nightclub to do a pat-down, check IDs and provide a wristband before anyone makes their way inside the facility.
"We're trying to get there, we're trying to keep everybody safe, we're trying to move forward, " said Cane, "Just like [Halsey] Beshears just recently said it's time to open, we need to start moving forward."
He says one of the biggest moments that showed they value safety over dollars came just past 1 a.m. when it started to pour. The rain pushed people from their rooftop bar down to the lower floors. Cane says they decided to shut down an hour before closing because they knew they would not be able to maintain social distancing.
Wax firmly believes that it will ultimately take funding from the state for bars and breweries to be incentivized to take an aggressive approach to safely reopening, across the board.
Wax admits he doesn't know what the inside of the club looked like, on Thursday night, but says it's common sense the outdoor line wasn't acceptable to maintain safety in the middle of a pandemic.
“Just because you are not breaking a rule doesn’t mean you are acting in an ethical fashion," he said. Wax argues owners have a moral obligation to do everything they can to keep people from getting sick.
“The longer these kinds of actions happen the longer we are going to be in this mess," he said. "You got to change how you do your line outside. Maybe you have to limit even more people that come to your establishment."
Cane tells ABC Action News he wants to hear suggestions so they can continue to do better. He says when they open for night number two on Friday, they intend to process people faster inside to prevent the same outcome.