Bars in Washoe County will be allowed to reopen no later than 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 16. Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak ordered bars to close in six Nevada counties, including Washoe County on July 11—just a short time after they’d been reopened, after the state entered Phase 2 under the governor’s old reopening plan.
Sisolak’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force approved the pending reopening of bars, taverns, distilleries and wineries during its Thursday meeting after hearing from officials from Washoe County—including Washoe County Commissioner Bob Lucey, Washoe County Manager Eric Brown and Washoe County Health District Officer Kevin Dick.
Drinking establishments will be allowed to open next Wednesday one minute before midnight. Approval for reopening comes on the heels of about 30 business owners coming together to form the Washoe County Bar/Taproom Coalition, through which they agreed upon a set of operating standards, which were proposed to the governor’s task force.
Washoe County’s Regional Information Center released a statement on Sept. 10 urging the owners of bars, breweries, wineries, taverns and pubs to join the coalition.
Despite this news, many assumed the decision to allow the reopening of their businesses would be “pushed off ’til next week,” said Matt Johnson—co-owner of brewery IMBīB Reno and one of those who started the owners’ coalition.
Johnson said more businesses have since signed on to the coalition. He estimated the number of businesses as near 50. This Is Reno will update this information when the list of businesses signed on to the coalition becomes available.
“We’re ecstatic to have an opportunity [to reopen],” Johnson said. “The message we’ve been trying to convey…is that we deserve the chance to prove we can do this the right way…Now, I think, going forward, my concern is are we going to have people who get us in trouble, who can’t follow the rules, and they ruin it for us. That was the idea with the coalition, if you’re signing on to it, we’re going to hold each other accountable…If we hear of people violating rules, we are not going to be shy about making sure the proper authorities hear about it.”
As a part of the new operating standards for reopening bars, all employees will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before work and will be required to wear masks at all times. Customers will also be required to have masks to be allowed into bars, and bars will operate at a maximum of 50% capacity—with six feet of social distancing between tables.
The operating standards include dozens of additional health and safety measures aimed at limiting coronavirus spread, from cleaning protocols to group-size and seating standards
Last week, bar owners were dismayed and angered by Washoe County officials’ decision not to push for the reopening of drinking establishments. The decision, health officials said, was based upon the unlikelihood that reopenings would have been approved—in part due to high test positivity rates for COVID-19. Washoe County’s positivity rate has fallen more than 1% since last week to 7.3%, according to data shared during Thursday’s task force meeting.
This Is Reno requested comment from Lucey, Brown and Dick on the work that was required to allow Washoe County drinking establishments to reopen but did not receive responses prior to the publication of this story.
Dave Solaro, Assistant County Manager, told This Is Reno there have been “a lot of people working hard to get to this point where the governor’s task force is allowing a plan to come forward to get bars open in the area.”
He mentioned agencies who’ve had a hand in the effort “from the Health District, to the County Commissioners…to the state task force…the manager’s office, the bars coalition.”
Solaro said he thinks the plan that’s been put forth is a good one.
“Obviously, the task force agreed that the plan is solid,” he said. “And, you know, it’s been a really strong effort and collaborative approach by a lot of people to get to this point. We do have a little more work to do…We are working right now to finalize the guidance document that will be sent out to the bar owners so they can get prepared to get open. We’re finalizing some enforcement plans. We’re going to send that over to the governor’s office this afternoon—at least to the state task force and allow them to review us and give us kind of the final thumbs up. We’re hoping early next week.”
The guidance will be sent to all bar owners, regardless of their participation in the coalition, Solaro said, adding that he believes the onus will be on bar owners to enforce rules when establishments reopen.
“That’s going to be the key to success for everybody is to have the bar owner—and not only the bar owners, but the people who frequent the bars—doing the right thing and continuing to follow the guidelines for social distancing and mask wearing and hand washing. That’s the important part here,” he said.
Read the entire list of operating standards for Washoe County bars here.
Business owners look to the future
Local bar owners quickly took to social media to announce reopening to their patrons following the task force’s decision. Among them was Larry DeVincenzi, owner of bar Rum Sugar Lime on Virginia Street in Midtown.
“We’re all thankful that Washoe County supported us so actively through this effort, as well as the City of Reno,” DeVincenzi said in a written statement to This Is Reno. “I know none of them wanted to keep us closed. Now the challenge is to operate safely, and enforce the rules consistently. Our guests have been really great about it all, and very understanding and helpful. There are still a handful of individuals that fight the rules, which I hope is clarified by our operating agreements and restrictions. With everyone’s help, we’ll get through this together. Small independent bars are going to need all the support they can get now going forward.”
DeVincenzi is a part of the coalition. Lacey Shea and Faith Zaumeyer—co-owners of Shea’s Tavern and Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor, respectively—have not joined. Zaumeyer said she’s on the fence about joining now since her bar will be allowed to reopen next week anyway.
Having exhausted Paycheck Protection Program funding, all three business owners have relied upon different means to stay afloat the last few months.
DeVincenzi was for some time able to provide cocktails on a to-go basis and also partnered with Pizzava—the pizza shop next door—to provide a food option to accompany drinks at the bar.
At Jub Jub’s—a bar on Wells Avenue often frequented by Burning Man attendees and artists—fundraisers and merchandise sales have been important.
“That was the only thing that did it,” Zaumeyer said.
Jub Jub’s is also dealing with a new landlord and a lease in a building that’s for sale. It’s also not just a bar, but a music venue and normally relies upon booking touring bands to make ends meet.
The new operating standards for bars and other drinking establishments do not allow for live entertainment. Even if the standards did, Zaumeyer said, it wouldn’t make up for the pandemic’s disruption of the touring music industry scene.
“When you book a tour, it takes months,” Zaumeyer said. “[Bands] plan, and they go through California, through Oregon, Washington—and we’re in the midway between stuff. Nobody’s just going to come to Reno.”
The disruption to her business plan is something she never could have fathomed.
“When you make a business plan, you plan out for a future—and you have your ideas based on projections of things and what’s happened in the past. Well, this has never happened before. It’s unprecedented,” Zaumeyer said.
At this point, she said she’s not entirely hopeful for the business’s future.
While Zaumeyer relied on fundraising efforts to keep Jub Jub’s solvent during the last several months, the co-owner of Shea’s Tavern, Lacey Shea, said her establishment was preserved in part thanks to her father and business partner Jerry Shea having saved money for a rainy day.
“To keep this bar open is at least $15,000 a month, and that’s not even running,” she said.
During the early part of Gov. Sisolak’s shutdown orders, Shea’s Tavern was undergoing renovations.
Now, Shea said, “to move forward, we’re going to stay with all of the COVID regulations and just stay with it and be consistent and just move forward and get this behind us.”
A few weeks ago, Shea went to the Sturgis biker rally in South Dakota to work. She called the experience of working in someone else’s bar after 15 years of working behind her own humbling and said she was happy to be back in Reno and ready to reopen the family bar.
“If people aren’t comfortable going out, then stay home. If people have underlying health conditions, stay home. I get that—but if people can be safe and compliant with everything, then they shouldn’t have held us back from living, paying our bills, making a livelihood,” she said.
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