Businesses across the state have been waiting with bated breath for Gov. Roy Cooper to announce plans for Phase 2 of reopening.
But many of them didn’t get the news they were hoping for Wednesday when Cooper announced that bars, and apparently breweries and wineries, all would stay closed.
Now, business owners and managers are wondering what to do as their businesses take hits from being closed.
Peter Skelton, owner of The Levee in Valdese, said he didn’t see why breweries couldn’t open alongside restaurants.
“It does seem somewhat arbitrary that a restaurant can open up at 50 percent capacity,” Skelton said.
Skelton explained the similarities and differences between breweries and restaurants, and breweries and bars.
“Most people [in breweries] sit at tables and socialize as much as you would sit at a restaurant’s table and eat a meal together with somebody else,” Skelton said. “Most breweries, I’d say, are more the sort of sit down and chat customers rather than the get up, get together and dance, so that’s one of the key differences between us and somewhere like a nightclub.”
There has been some speculation going around that breweries might not be included in the governor’s definition of a bar.
The North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild said in a press release Thursday that it is trying to get answers from Cooper’s office to clarify the definition in Executive Order 141.
“Throughout the COVID-19 shut-down, the NC craft beer industry has acted in a responsible manner making the safety of our customers and employees our top priority,” the release said.
At the local level, a couple of breweries already had plans, or at least partial plans, ready ahead of reopening. Joseph Ackerman at Sidetracked Brewery in downtown Morganton bought extra hand sanitizer to have on hand for reopening.
That was in addition to the protective measures that already were in place, like sanitizing surfaces and offering medical gloves to anyone who wanted them.
Ivy Johnson, manager at Catawba Brewing Co.’s Morganton tasting room, said her plan would have seen the tasting room have one entrance and exit, with proper spacing between tables and no one sitting at the bar.
“I understand the whole distancing and that, but honestly it’s just like going out to a restaurant,” Johnson said. “They wouldn’t be sitting at the bar, they would be spaced out correctly. Plastic cups, sanitizing after every customer. I really don’t get it honestly.”
When she heard the news Wednesday that breweries might not be able to open for another five weeks, she was upset.
“It just kind of gives me anxiety, not knowing,” Johnson said.
Skelton said he wished breweries had received a heads up that they might be labeled differently than restaurants.
“Really, some more notice that we might be considered different would have been good because ... previously the talk and the guidelines that have been published suggested, ‘okay, restaurants and bars will be able to open back up in phase 2,’” he said. “Suddenly phase 2 is (Friday) and restaurants can open and not bars. It’s like why this? Why now?”
Jennifer Foulides, owner at Silver Fork Winery, said while she’s been open for to-go orders, the winery has been making sure to keep customers separate while they’re making purchases or waiting on their orders.
She said she was disappointed in the news Wednesday.
“I think the governor kind of forgot about us all together,” she said.
Foulides didn’t think wineries and breweries should be under the same umbrella as bars.
“I just don’t think we should be counted in the same bucket as a bar, and most of us have large, outdoor patio areas that can easily accommodate more than 6 feet of social distancing,” Foulides said. “We’ve been hanging in there with to-go orders and shipping, but that’s not going to be able to sustain our business for several more weeks or even months.”
Skelton, like the other business owners, said he didn’t think he would have had much of a problem keeping customers distanced while they were in the brewery by pulling tables away from each other, creating one-way lines and more.
“We could easily enforce the same kind of social distancing,” Skelton said. “It seems like if you can enforce that in a restaurant we can enforce that in a brewery.”
Across the state, the craft beer industry alone has contributed more than 12,000 jobs and $2 billion to the economy, but the shutdown has “devastated the industry,” said the craft brewers guild press release. Industry wide, revenues are down 75-90 percent.
The same has been said for local businesses.
Foulides said Silver Fork is down probably 30-40 percent.
“And this is our busy season,” she said. “For wineries, especially the spring and fall, it’s when people come out.”
Skelton said his has been down to making about 10 percent of total profit, with limited help from the government’s small business paycheck protection loan program.
“We got $1,000 from that program, which is, you know, not a lot,” Skelton said.
At Catawba, Johnson said draft business is down but distribution still is doing well. She said they were surprised at the amount of to-go beer the brewery has sold.
“It’s definitely impacted our draft business and just during the week business,” Johnson said. “We have done really well with canned beer and we’ve ran specials for growler fills to try to go through some of our draft beer because ... 80 percent of our business is distribution and 20 percent is taproom sales.”
Down the street at Sidetracked, Ackerman said on average, the brewery has only brought in about 40 percent of what it normally would, but this week that dropped to 10 percent.
He wrote a letter to Cooper asking him to reconsider breweries’ designation under Phase 2.
“Because we do not serve food at our establishment, your latest executive order would classify us as a ‘bar’ and would not allow us to open until the end of June,” he wrote. “If this is the case, I may lose not only my business, but my home. Because patrons can have a pint of beer at any other establishment that serves alcohol in our town, there will be absolutely no reason for them to come to our brewery. This would be a death knell for businesses like mine.”