Ahead of second closure, Knox County bar owners say business finally improving after first shutdown

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Board of Health planned to discuss Wednesday whether to close bars again amid rising cases of COVID-19 in the county.

Bars were first shut down March 20, and many of them were finally able to reopen May 1.

Joel McLead, co-owner of Pour Taproom, said that since reopening, upper management ran the bar and within the last few weeks they started bringing back a few more employees part-time.

“Just started a third person back, like I just retrained him back this past weekend, with the anticipation that we thought everything was going to have a nice gentle slope up,” McLead said.

He said they were expecting business to pick up when students came back to town.

McLead said it wasn’t fair for the board of health to (possibly) close all bars down, because not all bars are set up the same.

“Every bar has its own layout, its own set up if you will. We’ve been blessed that we have this gigantic outdoor patio to the point where people even come in and ask if our dine in is still open because we might have 20, 30, 40 people sitting out there and zero inside,” McLead said.

In West Knoxville, Cleveland May, the managing partner at Back Door Tavern, agreed that it wasn’t fair to shut all bars down.

He also has a large outdoor space that they’ve been using.

“I think it would be more interesting to direct or use a precision tool to say ‘okay this is a spreading area, let’s close this area down, or this is responsible for x amount of cases, let’s address this,’ as opposed to a blanket everything’s closed down,” May said.

He said his bar has been following all the health guidelines since they reopened.

“From no bar service, so we’ve taken out all the stools for the bar, separating our tables a lot more so we’ve lost our capacity to seat people inside, we encourage people to sit outside when possible, when we have live music we out up a barrier 15 feet from the stage to prevent that interaction,” May said.

McLead pointed out that last week, a member on the board of health said the rising cases were more so coming from social gatherings outside of businesses, such as weddings or funerals.

He said if that’s the case, bars definitely shouldn’t be the ones to close.

“My fear would be if they shut down bars, it might increase the house parties, as opposed to us being able to offer an outdoor experience to people, which would be a great medium, if you will,” McLead said.

Both May and McLead said the second shutdown would be more difficult than the first, but they would do anything they can to make it through the pandemic.

“This has been a bar for 53 years so far. We don’t have any plans on going anywhere. It will certainly make it tougher; certainly affect our livelihoods, but we’ll still be here,” May said.

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