Bar owners, workers frustrated about inability to reopen rally at Arizona capitol Thursday

Posted at 7:40 AM, Aug 21, 2020

PHOENIX — Frustrated about their inability to reopen, dozens of bar owners and bartenders rallied outside the state capitol Thursday.

The three public health benchmarks that would pave a road for bars and bars serving food to reopen in limited form have not yet been met. The metrics were previously released by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

"My bills aren't getting paid. I could lose my house," said Karla Golding, a bartender at Connelly's. "It's unlimited what can happen to me."

Those at the rally told ABC15 they feel they can operate just as safely as restaurants that are currently open.

"Every bartender, server, here, we are so wanting to get back to work," Golding said. "We will do anything and everything they ask us to do. Just please let us open."

Governor Doug Ducey's executive order in June closed bars with a series 6 or 7 liquor license. Some restaurants have a different type of license. Some of the bar owners on Thursday told ABC15 they feel they should be treated as a restaurant and allowed to reopen now.

"We can open up and be as diligent as the restaurants are with cleanliness, occupancy, we don't have to do the live music or the karaoke," said Kimberly O'Donnell, who owns two businesses, including Kimmyz on Greenway.

At almost the same time as the rally, Governor Ducey was questioned about the bar situation at a press conference.

"We want to have a consistent process," Ducey said. "But I think anybody that's frequented some of these places knows how different each situation is."

Ducey also noted guidance on how to reopen has previously been released, referring to the public health benchmarks.

"If people will work with our team, work with the Department of Health Services, I'm confident if they're willing to make some changes we can find a way to resolution," Ducey said.

Indeed, the Department of Health Services has approved some affected businesses to reopen before meeting the public health benchmarks. Those are businesses that must follow even more stringent guidelines. As it pertains to bars serving food, as of Wednesday, the department had approved five establishments to reopen while denying 40 others.

"They denied both of my locations," O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell provided ABC15 a copy of the denial letter from the Department of Health Services. In it, it mentions businesses that have been approved to reopen have implemented "specific more stringent requirements beyond those required in the Guidelines and Benchmarks." They include measures such as operating as a restaurant at under 25% occupancy, or fewer than five customers at one time. They also include modifying hours to close no later than 10 p.m. and requiring the purchase of food with alcohol.

"If they would have put that on the appeal letter, letting us owners know what we needed to do to get open, we could have very easily done that," O'Donnell said.

For now, affected employees are left to rally at the capitol, rather than work behind the bar.

"I have two kids," said Summer Marcus, a bartender at a Phoenix bar. "I'm a single mom, completely single mom. I don't get child support, I don't get welfare, I don't get anything. Now I don't get unemployment or a chance to work the bar. Nobody's hiring right now because of COVID. What do they want us to do?"

In response to the rally, Governor Ducey's Communications Director Patrick Ptak sent ABC15 the following:

We're being cautious and following the guidance of public health. We've established data-driven benchmarks to enable businesses to gradually resume operations once it's safe to do so. Businesses going above and beyond the required health guidance have the ability to work with the Department of Health Services to open earlier. We've also been in regular communication with the business community. We know this is a sacrifice for many, and we appreciate their efforts to combat this pandemic.