COVID-19 Business Closures

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ucson bar owners are ambivalent over Governor Doug Ducey’s recent executive order prohibiting bars from allowing customers in their establishments for the next 30 days amid a rise of coronavirus cases in the state since reopening May 12. 

The order went into effect at 8 p.m. on Monday, June 29. 

Gov. Ducey’s order came days after he called out a slew of Scottsdale and Tempe bars for being “bad actors” for not implementing social distancing protocols during the pandemic after recent photos of jam-packed college bars were released on social media. 

Sean Humphrey, co-owner of John Henry’s Bar in downtown Tucson, believes all drinking establishments in the state are being punished for certain bar owners acting irresponsibly during the pandemic. Humphrey was a part of Pima County’s Bars and Restaurant Task Force that helped to get barrooms reopened under the same rules as restaurants when Gov. Ducey lifted his initial shutdown order mid-May. 

“I feel like there are certain places in the state that operate with wanton disregard for the current health crisis,” Humphrey said. “They threw caution to the wind and we’re paying for it. It is what it is.”

Humphrey said the challenges of being in the bar business for the past three months have been hard to overcome, from the shutdown, and concerns upon reopening, to civil unrest over police brutality, leading to state-mandated curfews and now reclosure of Arizona bars as COVID-19 cases skyrocket in the state.

“Between the initial shutdown, then the state-mandated curfew and now individuals and establishments not being responsible, not enforcing social distancing like we do at our place, they have ruined it for everybody,” Humphrey said. “It only takes a handful of high-profile examples to ruin it for the other 99 percent.”

Humphrey isn’t sure if his bar will survive. He said his partners plan to met soon to discuss the future of John Henry’s. Whether that means going back to to-go beer and liquor sales or shutting down entirely is up in the air, he said. 

“I don’t know if we’re going to make it,” Humphrey said. “We’re going to talk, but I think everybody is feeling the same way. We’re all tired. As of right now, I just don’t know and I feel really defeated.” 

Across the train tracks that separate downtown from Fourth Avenue, Che’s Lounge co-owner Jim Vancza said he thinks Ducey made the right move, considering the rising number of cases across the state.

“Based on the numbers I’m seeing, I think they should shut down practically everything,” Vancza said.

He and his business partner Jill Brammer chose to stay closed for sit-down bar service—offering beer and booze to-go—even after the stay-at-home order was lifted last May. Vancza said they made a simple decision to help keep their customers and staff safe, as Che’s Lounge would be typically packed on any given night of the week before the pandemic. 

“We didn’t feel it was safe for our employees or our customers. I think we were proven correct based on the numbers,” Vancza said. “I would rather be the last place to open and miss out on a little bit than to be the first place that opens and get our employees and our customers sick.”

While Vancza said he and Brammer are fortunate to have savings from the establishment that could possibly help them weather the pandemic storm, he “completely understands” why a bar would reopen during these times. 

“Having the history (Che’s Lounge) has, it gives us the luxury a lot of places don’t have. We can fall back on some savings and hopefully ride this out,” Vancza said. “I completely understand the pressure to try and make it however you can, but I personally feel like people’s health is more important than money.”

Vancza isn’t sure when he and Brammer will decide to reopen their bar, but he’s confident it is not happening after the end of this current shutdown. He said they plan to re-evaluate the situation in mid-August as college students return. Vancza notes the prospect of being open for sit-down bar service anytime soon doesn’t seem realistic at the moment.

“I don’t think it’s going to go back to the way it was until there is a vaccine or a cure or something along those lines,” Vancza said. “Hopefully, it gets better real quickly but I don’t have a whole lot of faith in that.”

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