PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Bars and breweries in the Tampa Bay area are anxious to reopen. Some say they're barely scraping by after months of being closed due to the pandemic.
Governor Ron DeSantis and Secretary Halsey Beshears of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation spent Thursday afternoon in St. Petersburg speaking with Pinellas County bar and brewery owners as the state works to come up with a time frame to reopen those businesses.
DeSantis didn’t give a definitive time when that could happen, saying instead that he hopes it will be “very soon.”
LJ Govoni, of Big Storm, says time is of the essence.
“We’re at an imperative point for this industry to at least have the opportunity to fight for our life,” he explained.
Pete Boland, the owner of The Galley, agrees.
“We just want some certainty going forward here,” he said.
Many bars and breweries, including Green Bench, ended up applying for a restaurant license after being closed for more than 100 days and laying off dozens of workers. That move allowed the St. Pete brewery to welcome customers to their large outdoor space and bring back several employees.
“We never wanted to be in a position where we needed help from the state, federal or local government. We are here to work,” said Nathan Stoneipher, from Green Bench Brewing Company.
Bar and brewery owners argue they have adequate safety measures in place to keep customers safe including outdoor space, mask rules and social distancing enforcement.
Matthew Dahm of Mastery’s Brewing says they just need the opportunity to be given more flexibility in reopening.
“We just need the opportunity to get back to work to show what we can do," he said.
Desantis agreed, adding that he does not see a problem with people safely venturing back out to bars and breweries as a chance to relax.
“I want every business in Florida operating and we pretty much have 99% back open. Bars and breweries are kinda the last ones,” he added.
Brewery owners also hope state leaders will be able to separate the business that closes early like breweries from night clubs, where social distancing may be trickier.
“We don’t serve liquor, we’re not a bar really. We’re a tasting room,” Khris Johnson of Green Bench added.
In the meantime, DeSantis is vowing to try to free up CARES Act funds for bars and breweries forced to close to comply with government orders.
“We didn’t shut down because we wanted to shut down. We were forced to shut down,” Johnson explained.
“We gotta get back to work around here. We gotta let people know it’s okay. Life does have some inherent risk but we’re going to do the best we can to create a safe environment for our guests and try to show people a good time and give them a reason to smile in this crazy year,” Boland chimed in.
Mike Harting of 3 Daughters Brewing says they went from 62 employees to 4 at the end of March. Although they received government assistance, he says it isn’t a long term solution.
“I think we can do this both safely and quickly. We’re ready,” he elaborated.