As Greensboro bars struggle to survive, Downtown Greensboro Inc. helps provides options reopening

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — After more than five months of being closed down, bar owners throughout the Triad have begun to look at ways to change their business model to reopen.

Bars are listed to open in Phase 3, which has become “Charlie Brown-esque” for them.

In the past two attempts, Gov. Roy Cooper has moved the date at the last minute, citing a rise in cases and bars’ inability to properly keep people from social distancing.

Bar owners in the Triad have started to re-develop the way they do business. Some have begun to install kitchens in their establishments to sell food. This would essentially allow them to relabel themselves as “eateries.”

“If restaurants are open, and bars can’t, and the only difference is that restaurants serve food, can they serve food?” asked Zack Matheny, with Downtown Greensboro Inc.

He said the social and economic impact of bars not being allowed open has trickled down through South Elm Street.

The food crowd for restaurants has become “sluggish.” Financially, he’s worried that the impact will only get worse and lead to more layoffs if people don’t return.

“We’re going to have another wave of unemployment, another wave of empty storefronts. It’s complete survival mode,” Matheny said.

Matheny has begun to guide bar owners in various ways to adapt to reopen their business, while also falling into the “gray” area of the governor’s order.

He says some bars have begun to reopen by selling items like groceries, while others have started to cook and sell small snacks and meals.

“Business owners are discussing, in their minds, and with us – how do we survive,” he said.

Matheny has also begun to push bars into partnerships with local restaurants to sell food inside their bars. His idea is that bars buy food from restaurants and then sell them to customers inside their bar, to meet the minimum food requirement to be considered an “eatery.”

“If there is an option that bars can buy pizzas and have a menu list of five items, and I hope that it would,” Matheny said. The idea, in his mind, would help out bars and restaurants.

While it’s unknown how many bars could be seriously looking into this option, there have been some citizens who have voiced concern.

Greensboro City Council Member Michelle Kennedy spoke on those concerns Tuesday at the county commissioners meeting.

“The real concern is that those large groups of people who may tonight be at a bar may be in Target with you tomorrow and suddenly people who were following the rules were doing everything they can are now exposed to people who choose not too,” she said.

Her sentiment is echoed by Dr. Mandy Cohen, who said, “the states that have seen theses surges and need to go backwards, the first thing they close is bars the second is gyms.”

Matheny argues, there needs to be fewer penalties against those that tried to find ways to safely open.

“We’ve got businesses that are doing everything they can to survive. And if we don’t allow them to do business in some capacity, then the amount of small businesses that the entire Triad will lose is something I don’t think we’ll ever get back,” he said.

The idea, from bar owners’ perspectives, is to be treated like swimming pools; close every few hours for a deep clean before letting people come back in.

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