NORMAN — Some Norman businesses are anticipating further financial struggles after Gov. Kevin Stitt's Monday announcement of new restrictions for bars and restaurants.
As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have hit record highs across the state in recent weeks, Stitt announced Monday that effective Thursday, bars and restaurants must either ensure all tables are six feet apart, or properly install sanitized dividers between groups. The restrictions also require bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m., prohibiting the sale of in-person food or alcohol after that point.
“Data shows that social distancing is harder to maintain later at night, especially at bars,” Stitt said Monday.
While Stitt said he hopes the new restrictions will help curb the spread of COVID-19, some local bars are nervous about the restrictions — particularly the change in business hours.
Michelle Miller, co-owner of the Bluebonnet Bar at 321 E. Main St., said her venue has already canceled live music through the rest of the month in response to the new restrictions, as most of the bar's live music occurs later in the evening.
The bar is open from noon to 2 a.m. seven days a week, and Miller said the business typically sees higher revenue from 10 p.m. to close on most days.
“Quite frankly, we’re not sure if the bar will generate enough money between noon and 11 p.m. to be able to afford musicians,” Miller said. “We’re going to see how November goes and then we might introduce music earlier in the evenings for December. But for now, we’re just going to see how this affects us.”
Yvonne Dorman, owner of Red Brick Bar at 311 E. Main St., said while the bar opens at noon, she estimates that 25-30% of her business comes later in the evenings.
“This is really going to take a lot of my business,” Dorman said. “On Friday nights at 10 p.m., we start karaoke, which is a big part of my bar, but that will change now. We were already down because of COVID, and this is really just going to impact us even harder.”
Bob MacIntosh, manager at The Deli at 309 White St., said nearly 50% of the bar’s revenue comes from the late night hours. He's hoping that money will become available from the state or federal government to help businesses impacted by the restrictions.
“It’s not difficult to understand why they did it. It’s obvious there’s a big outbreak and they’re trying to get it under control,” MacIntosh said. “But no matter how good the reason is, a business has to try to find ways to survive. We’ve just tried to remain open and be as safe as we possibly could … but if they are going to tell us that we can’t be open and restrict our revenue, there should be some kind of assistance they’re going to offer.”
Scott Martin, Norman Chamber of Commerce CEO and president, said with COVID-19 cases increasing, there is a need for uniform state action, but urged local residents to find ways to support local businesses.
“Certainly with the Bedlam game this weekend, [the timing] is not ideal,” Martin said. “But this is not our first OU home game, so I think our businesses and merchants are used to it. Going into the holiday season, and now having these new state regulations, I think it drives home the point that we as consumers need to look for ways that we can support our local businesses, whether it’s dining in a safe way or doing drive-thru and curbside delivery."
While Martin urged Norman residents to support local businesses, he also hopes more money will become available for businesses at all levels of government, he said.
“I think this is going to add a new impact to [bars and restaurants], and that’s certainly cause for concern,” Martin said. “I hope this adds emphasis for the city to act quickly on a local relief package for businesses. I know they are having those discussions. I hope there will be another round of federal relief that will be forthcoming in the not-too-distant future.”
While local businesses have implemented new procedures to try and keep patrons safe, some acknowledge that the new restrictions increase the struggle for businesses to remain open.
Miller said she is confident the Bluebonnet Bar can make adjustments and continue to remain open.
“With all of this craziness, music and self expression is more important than ever, but so is health,” Miller said. "So [canceling live music] is just going to have to cut it for now … we’re Norman’s oldest bar and we’re not going to let anything happen to it.”