Left out of phase one, Orlando bar owners and employees agree with cautious approach to reopening

Behind the bar at the Nook on Robinson - Photo via the Nook on Robinson/Facebook
Photo via the Nook on Robinson/Facebook
Behind the bar at the Nook on Robinson
Gov. Ron DeSantis this week unveiled a somewhat muddled set of plans to lift the statewide stay-at-home orders and initiate a phased reopening of businesses, beginning on Monday, May 4.

The first phases of his "Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step" plan include reopening retail establishments at 25 percent capacity and restaurants with socially distanced outdoor seating. Gatherings of 10 or more people are still strongly discouraged.

Even with these newly relaxed guidelines, announced on a day coronavirus cases in Florida surge past 33,000, bars and nightlife spots are still effectively prohibited from reopening.

Orlando Weekly spoke to local bar owners and employees who all agreed with this decision, preferring a cautious approach with more testing and curve-flattening before business tries to reopen as usual. Even with the continued loss of income weighing more heavily on their minds by the day.

"If DeSantis would have allowed bars to open on May 4, then the Falcon would not have been ready to open safely to the public. We would have waited until we had all precautions taken to ensure a safe experience," said Melissa Schumann of Thornton Park's Falcon Bar.

"I have been working on updates to the bar with our customers' and employees' welfare in mind. I have been mentally preparing for an open date of June 1, but the hard part for planning is having no re-open date at all. I feel confident that when we do reopen that our customers will feel at ease in our space based on our attention to their safety. Oh and one more thing, DeSantis needs to fix the fucking unemployment system now!"

"We all want to get the party started again, but only when it’s safe."

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Mary McGinn, both a co-owner and bartender at the Milk District's Nook on Robinson is also realistic about the need for more time before her bar reopens: "While it is very stressful to have extremely limited income, we understand that safety comes first. We aren't anticipating reopening to the public as a bar and venue until the government decides that it's safe for us to operate. Until then, we will continue to sell Florida-made beverages to-go through our plexiglass pick-up window."

"I didn’t expect bars & clubs to reopen so soon so I’m not surprised," said local DJ BMF, who held court regularly at multiple drinking establishments. "We all want to get the party started again, but only when it’s safe."

Hanna Atwood, a longtime bartender at the Falcon, isn't feeling all that optimistic about the policies put forth by state leaders. "
My gut reaction when I heard that Florida was ready to reopen businesses in phases at all was that it’s just too soon," said Atwood. "We haven’t been equipped with accurate figures on real cases due to the lack of testing, and now there’s the news of medical examiner data suppression, and we just don’t fully know what we’re up against."

"As for bars being left out of phase one, I think it’s the right move. At the Falcon, we were implementing safety and sanitization measures before the closure mandates, and I know we’re going to do everything possible to make people feel safe when the time comes to resume business. When the decision is made for us to reopen, I know I’ll be able to return to work with confidence."

"The really unfortunate thing about bars being left out of this first phase of reopening is the financial impact it is having on employees and small business owners alike. Hospitality workers were among the first people to experience lost wages due to COVID-19 closures and are part of the population being denied most frequently for unemployment benefits and pandemic relief. The system designed to help is broken with no remedy in sight and not having a definitive timeline for when things will turn around is stressful. However, we’ll be ready with hand sanitizer in hand and masks on our faces, or whatever distancing measures the situation dictates when the time comes to be operational again."

— Please follow CDC guidelines and Orange County advisories to stay safe, and please support this free publication. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you news on how coronavirus is affecting Central Florida. Please consider making a one-time or monthly donation. Every little bit helps.
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