Coronavirus in Knoxville: Bar owners discuss reopening plans following Phase Two announcement

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Health Department gave the all-clear to begin Phase Two of the city/county reopening plan this Tuesday. That’s three days earlier than originally planned.

Bars are among the businesses getting the ‘ok’ to reopen. WATE 6 On Your Side reporter Elizabeth Kuebel found out what this means for bar owners moving forward.

Scott West’s bars have been in downtown Knoxville for decades, but the last two months have been unlike anything he’s experienced before.

“In 30 years we’ve never closed our businesses. Preservation Pub is open 365 nights a year. Live music 365 nights a year,” West said.

That changed in mid-March. Amid coronavirus concerns, West temporarily closed the handful of bars he owns. Despite the Knox County Health Department now giving him the green light to soon open back up, West says he’ll wait a few weeks.

“We have the ability to wait. All of our staff 100 percent are coming back, 100 percent are being rehired and all of them have the financial wherewithal because of government stimulus, thank you government, to allow them to sit it out for a little bit,” West said. “The soonest we’ll open our rooftops, patios will be June 15 at the earliest.”

A different decision coming from the owners of a few Old City bars. Mark Jernigan is glad Phase Two is getting closer.

“We were very excited. We anticipated being open some time next week, but hoping bars would be included. Obviously we don’t know the guidelines or the suggestions as of yet, but we’re certainly excited to open back up some time next week. Probably Wagon Wheel and Carleo’s probably Wednesday or Thursday, and then Southbound on Friday, Saturday,” Jernigan said.

And when they do reopen, there will be an emphasis on keeping both customers and staff safe, following the suggestions and guidelines that will be laid out for them.

“We’re going to pay extra attention to wiping things down, the common areas. We’ll do single use on everything: straws, cups, that sort of thing. We’re kind of kicking around whether we’re going to monitor temperatures of customers coming in,” said Jernigan.

The same goes back in Market Square at West’s bars.

“We’ll have lots of hand sanitizers and all throwaway cups for now, until we can get back to normal,” West said.

On Wednesday, the Health Department announced bars will be allowed to reopen with no bar service. More clarification and other details are expected to come on Friday.

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