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Coronavirus

'Just Enough': Bar Owners React To First Indoor Drinking Allowed Since Pandemic Began

By Cece Nunn, posted Feb 25, 2021
Jimmy Gilleece, owner of Jimmy’s Wrightsville Beach, said the 30% capacity allowed as of Friday for bars is better than nothing and 'I'll take whatever I can get at this point.' (File photo)
Local bar owners tried to adapt to the pandemic, which has left their businesses empty for nearly a year.

And while some methods of coping were helpful, others were not.

"I had rented a tent, and that was outrageously expensive every month with the chairs and the tables and the heaters and the gas to control the heaters," said Jimmy Gilleece, owner of Jimmy's Wrightsville Beach at 5 N. Lumina Ave. "But you know, we had to do it to get going."

On Wednesday, however, Gov. Roy Cooper eased restrictions on bars so that starting Friday, bars and taverns can open up to indoor drinking at 30% capacity. Restaurants are allowed to go up to 50% capacity from their previous 30%.

"I'm pretty thrilled to get rid of that tent and that expense," Gilleece said. "I would have liked to see him [Cooper] open up to 50% for bars and taverns and a midnight curfew [drinks can only be served up until 11 p.m., two hours later than a previous restriction], but I'll take whatever I can get at this point."

One way Jimmy's was able to still make money during the year was by selling bar T-shirts, towels and other souvenir items.

"We have sold a pile of merchandise," Gilleece said. "People have come out like crazy to buy merchandise. Then we started our mobile bar business. We converted a horse trailer into mobile bar and a Volkswagon bus to a bar. We were booked pretty much every weekend in the fall."

And since cases have been going down lately, bookings have gone back up from a winter slump, he said.

The Blind Elephant, 21 N. Front St. in downtown Wilmington, was also able to add a mobile component to help get through the darkest days.

Owner Ashley Tipper launched Vagabond Spirits, a mobile cocktail bar that has been popular for weddings, at-home parties, block parties and more.

"It's been very well-received. We've done a whole lot of events," she said. "It's been a project I've really been able to focus on and launch with all of my attention, which has been a silver lining here."

The state eventually allowed bars to serve to-go drinks, but for Tipper, it didn't help. 

"We attempted to-go drinks, but it really wasn't fruitful; wasn't worth our time," Tipper said.

As for the latest announcement, Tipper said, "I'm thrilled. At this point everyone's just so desparate that any kind of loosening of the regulations is wonderful for us because I think at 30% capacity that's going to be just enough for us to break even and hopefully start to make money one day, eventually, again."
 

THE LATEST ORDER

Wednesday's executive order announced by Cooper lifted a modified order requiring people to stay at home and businesses to close to the public between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The number of people who are allowed to gather indoors increases from 10 to 25, while 50 remains the limit for outdoors. The curfew on the sale of alcohol for on-site consumption is moving from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Some businesses, including bars and amusement parks, will now be open for patrons indoors as they adhere to new occupancy restrictions. Many businesses, venues and arenas will have increased occupancy both indoors and outdoors. 

The order has two categories of occupancy restrictions: 30% capacity and 50% capacity. Because indoor spaces have a higher risk of spread for COVID-19, indoor facilities in the 30%-occupancy category may not exceed 250 people per indoor room or indoor space. 

30% Capacity Limit (may not exceed 250 people in indoor spaces)
  • Bars
  • Meeting, reception and conference spaces
  • Lounges (including tobacco) and night clubs
  • Indoor areas of amusement parks
  • Movie theatres
  • Entertainment facilities (e.g., bingo parlors, gaming establishments)
  • Sports arenas and fields*
  • Venues*
    * Indoor event venues with more than 5,000 seats may be exempted from the 250-person limit if they follow additional safety measures up to 15% capacity.
50% Capacity Limit 
  • Restaurants 
  • Breweries, wineries, distilleries
  • Fitness and physical activity facilities (e.g., gyms, bowling alleys, rock climbing facilities)
  • Pools
  • Museums and aquariums
  • Retailers
  • Outdoor areas of amusement parks
  • Salons, personal care, tattoo parlors
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