SOUTHINGTON — Bar owners say they’re going to try to hang on until they receive approval to reopen, approval that was delayed due to a spike in coronavirus cases in other states.
“It’s pretty brutal. Right now it’s just a game of survival,” said Sean Sherman, owner of Sherman’s Taphouse on Center Street. He opened last year.
“I don’t intend to close. We’re going to stick it out and figure it out,” said John Migliore, owner of 75 Center who opened his doors three years ago.
Gov. Ned Lamont had planned to allow bars to reopen on July 18. While customers can get drinks at their tables, bar owners say the bulk of alcohol sales take place at bars, which are closed by executive order.
Lamont announced Monday he is postponing the state’s third phase of reopening “for the foreseeable future,” expressing concern about the number of positive COVID-19 cases spiking in other states and those governors deciding to reverse their earlier reopening decisions.
’It’s not enough’
Owner of the former Machiavelli’s on Center Street, Migliore said it’s frustrating to see other businesses packed but still only being able to operate at a reduced capacity. His bar normally seats 250, but much of that is taken up by the bar and tables must be properly spaced.
Had he been allowed to open, Migliore said his customers would have returned.
“With our age demographic, those kids would have certainly came out,” he said. “People are ready to get out. Even if they had to wear masks, that would have been fine with them.”
Migliore has been serving food “but it’s not enough.”
Bills, particularly deferred payments to distributors for alcohol, are coming due.
“It seems like bars are the last on the list to get any kind of opening,” Migliore said. “It’s a huge industry in our state.”
He’s worried about the 40 people he employs as well as related services, such as DJs and doormen.
‘A hard road’
Sherman said his sales in Southington are down by about 60 percent since the pandemic started. He has another location in Burlington where sales are down 75 percent.
“The goal is to lose as little money as possible,” he said. “Where the margins weren’t that big to begin to begin with, they’re now nonexistent.”
With his bar closed, the sale of higher-margin drinks is especially suffering. Like other bar owners, Sherman is worried about taking on more debt to get through a pandemic of unknown length. He’s hopeful to keep food sales growing as people slowly come back to restaurants.
“It’s going to be a hard road,” Sherman said Tuesday.
Holding on for now
Lou Perillo, the town’s economic development coordinator, said he hasn’t heard from any bar owners that they’ll be shutting their doors permanently. But some aren’t far from that.
“They don’t know how much longer they can hold out,” Perillo said. “If you can do food, you’re able to manage. Without doing food, it’s a major impediment to business. There’s no revenue.”
While bars and restaurants are able to serve more customers with outdoor dining and offset reduced indoor capacity, Perillo said some owners are wondering what to do during the cold months if restrictions are still in place.
“You start thinking about the future, and that has some people questioning,” he said.