New possible order could mean you must be seated to be served, Gainesville bar owners say it will lead to permanent closure

Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 6:15 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Bar owners could soon be facing another major financial hit as a possible new emergency order is in the works.

In a Gainesville city commission meeting last week, commissioners proposed a new emergency order to city manager Lee Feldman-- asking him to create one similar to Hillsborough County’s.

“The commission motion was focused on mandating mask wearing inside bars-- that is what the ask was. It was a split vote, which means it did not have full commission support ... but enough to ask management to consider something similar,” said Director of Communications for the City of Gainesville, Shelby Taylor.

This could include mandates like fining bar owners for their patrons not following COVID rules -- including mandatory seating, to be served.

The new order would be put in place to not only stop lines from forming outside of bars like those in Midtown --but to enforce social distancing inside.

For some bar owners, space is limited. Going back to mandatory seating in bars means cutting capacity significantly.

“Basically makes me think they are going back to the original beginning of COVID rules where everyone has to be seated,” said bar owner JD Chester. “If that is the case ... we will not let that happen ... we will close-- because we actually lost money when that was going on.”

Chester said he is currently working to make lines outside more socially-distant with a Disney World ride- style line waiting area but he said not all bars have that luxury of outdoor space.

City Manager Lee Feldman, who is in charge of implementing the possible order, says he is still researching Hillsborough County’s order.

“The city manager now has the responsibility to investigate Hillsborough County’s order and what components are and are not included-- how it was implemented, how it is working, if it is effective,” said Taylor.

Still, the possibility of requiring patrons to be seated to be served -- has created fear for business owners.

“This order would put us out of business ... that’s all ... point blank. If we have to go back to tables and go back to a seating limit, we will lose money and not be able to sustain our rent and bills. That is 100% of a chance,” said Chester.

The city will be holding another meeting February 18th to continue this conversation. We will keep you updated as soon as any new information is released.

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