Confusing Times for Bars and Restaurants

by Carlos de Gonzalez

It seems almost surreal to think that there was once a time when local businesses flourished, people were free to mingle just about anywhere, and the national economy was on the rise.

That was just five months ago. A pandemic changed all that.

“Everybody’s Hometown” is home to thousands of residents, welcomes tourists, and claims the world’s longest-running annual rodeo. Many of us also work in the food and alcohol service industries, sell art, work in our community centers, and play music, all businesses hit hard by the waves of closures and confusing restrictions.

The Public House greeter shows the way.

In the food and beverage industry, inconsistency seems to rule: where some places require everyone to wear masks, including patrons, others only require them for staff. After the initial lockdown, restaurants and bars were allowed to open with limited capacity, regardless of their type of liquor license. Now different licenses have different rules.

There are 21 different types of liquor licenses in Arizona, but the two most relevant to the current situation are Series 6 and Series 12, for restaurants and bars.

A Series-6 license mainly applies to bars. It allows for owners to sell beer, wine and spirits ( tequila, rum, vodka, gin, etc.) to customers for consumption on premises, with no requirement to serve food. The license also allows for the sale and delivery of packaged beer and wine.

Series-12 licenses are meant for restaurants, which must show at least 40% of their total sales are food. Most recently only those with Series-12 licenses have been allowed to remain open, regardless of their ratio of food to alcohol sales.

After the most recent lockdown it got even more complicated, where no Series-6-licensed establishment was allowed to open, regardless of outdoor seating or whether food was sold. It’s unclear why this recent shuttering was so different from the other. All this is to be considered when it comes to the economy and community morale.

An example is the Back Alley Wine Bar, which has been greatly affected and lost very significant income. It was able to operate successfully from May 15 to June 29, but that ended with the most recent executive order, which closed its doors to virtually all business. Owner Sheri Shaw, a Prescott resident for nine years, felt it hard: “I’m literally losing everything, and no one gives a crap …. The virus apparently cares more about a Series-6 than a Series-12.”

Back Alley Wine Bar Owner Sheri Shaw: “I’m literally losing everything.”

Her business was able to survive through the initial restrictions because there wasn’t any open competition, and she followed all government guidelines. Unfortunately for her and many others, self-employment does not qualify for the enhanced unemployment benefits. To help keep things going and spread the joy of wine, she is running popup sales near her business on Saturdays, and is considering hosting virtual tastings via social media. She has very limited staff right now, with one sommelier in training.

A new enclosed 'parklet' covering street parking spaces in front of the Raven Café will seat up to 30.

The Raven Café has faced its own challenges, with the pandemic limiting seating to less than 50% of normal capacity. The staff have set up a retractable belt barrier at the front entrance to help prevent any overflow, and they've added extra people to help guests with seating. They consider it a blessing that they have two open patio areas, a large area upstairs and a couple of tables out front, but every extra inch of available space helps. They have revamped the entire menu, have a new chef in the kitchen, and are making meals more compact, with all their items now gluten-free. For greater safety, all their cups are disposable and they strongly encourage guests to wear face coverings whenever they are not at their own tables. Still, despite their best efforts and even offering a new takeout option, sales are down by over 40%. The staff hopes that will change soon, with trivia resuming on Monday nights at 7 and weekend music to follow.

To give businesses some flexibility, the City has allowed at least two restaurants to expand their seating outside in place of street parking spots. The Raven is adding furniture to accommodate five or six more tables, seating up to 30 people, in an enclosed space. Rosa’s Pizzeria has already expanded seating options, built in part by the owner himself, Skyler Reeves. Rosa’s started using the extra space on July 10, with eight tables set six feet apart, two for two people and six for parties of four. The City is allowing alcohol service as well in these special areas. Other establishments may be considering this option as well.

Considering all that we’ve gone through in Prescott, it’s important to be patient with the new regulations and be considerate of others, and if a business asks you to follow a special rule, they’re doing it because they want to stay safe and stay open. So go out there, support whatever businesses are open, and be kind to one another. When things feel cold or sterile, a warm heart can make all the difference.

Carlos de Gonzalez is a frequent contributor to 5enses. Photos by Carlos.

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