Few Arizona industries suffered more during the COVID-19 pandemic than bars, which faced severe operating restrictions, drastically reduced business and a backlash from public officials.
In addition, bars faced closures at the instruction of an executive order from the state. Since those first devastating days in March through the fall, bars and many businesses around the state struggled to stay afloat.
With Covid on its way to eradication thanks to a flurry of approved vaccines, bars now face another existential threat. Proposed legislation gives the thousands of restaurants in the state some of the same privileges to sell alcohol to go that bars maintain.
I’ve operated Kactus Kate’s in cottonwood for 25 years. Pre-coronavirus, many of the bars across the state prospered despite some uncertain economic times. Bars have long been a place of refuge after a long day’s work or a relaxing gathering spot for friends and family.
Covid began hurting bars almost immediately. When the state shut down the economy, bars were ordered closed to help stop the spread. As spring turned to summer, Arizona began to open up and employ commonsense measures to slow the spread of the virus, such as wearing masks and staying six feet apart. At bars, we planned to reduced capacity, expand outdoor seating and encouraged social distancing among our patrons.
However, bars faced additional hurdles that other retailers and restaurants avoided. The state forced many of us to remain closed to patrons who wanted to drink and socialize. After suing the state to overturn the closure order, bars won the right to again serve patrons in a responsible way.
However, just as bars start to recover, the state is proposing to give restaurants a competitive and economic advantage.
Restaurants had been given authority during the pandemic to package alcoholic beverages to go. The theory was that in a time of economic distress with no ability to serve patrons in their dining rooms, restaurants would be able to sell alcohol along with a burger or spaghetti to go. While the law did not allow this, most people looked the other way because of the temporary nature of the pandemic.
Restaurants weathered the COVID storm and the industry remains vibrant and growing. New eateries pop up weekly to accommodate a public desirous of new options.
Some in the Legislature want to give restaurants the permanent authority to sell liquor to go, a right that exclusively belong to bars and retail establishments like convenience stores and grocery stores. In some parts of the state, bars earn a substantial amount of revenue selling package liquor.
To be sure, bars pay a premium for this right. A license to open a bar costs at least $100,000 from the state, whereas a restaurant pays just a few thousand dollars to serve liquor onsite. HB2773 proposes to give restaurants a significant competitive advantage, paying just $1500 for rights that a bar must shell out at least $100,000.
It’s obviously neither fair nor right to create a permanent solution to this temporary problem. Covid will be a thing of the past as the vaccines become more available. To change state law and provide a significant competitive advantage to an industry that is now flourishing is just wrong. The bar owners around the state hope the Legislature rejects this unfair competitive advantage in HB2773.
Kate Woods owns Kactus Kate’s in Cottonwood.