Armed with new ideas, Florida’s top business regulator is considering his options after meeting with bar and brewery owners across Florida to discuss reopening.
Halsey Beshears, secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, met with owners in Orlando during two meetings Sunday that like other gatherings across the state was closed to news reporters.
But both the department and people who attended the meetings said there was no timeline for reopening.
Beshears has held meetings across the state, including in Jacksonville, the Tampa Bay area and Pensacola. He met with owners in Brevard and Seminole counties last week.
His Orlando meeting with brewery owners, separate from another meeting with bar owners Sunday, took place at Church Street’s Broken Strings Brewery. Owner Jeff Thompson said Beshears told them it would be the last meeting with breweries.
After announcing on Twitter bars had to stop serving alcohol for people to drink on site on June 26 as coronavirus cases skyrocketed in the state, Beshears told those in attendance Sunday he would give businesses three-days notice ahead of a new order, Thompson said.
“I did walk away with the feeling they have words on paper, and they are vetting it,” Thompson said.
But Gov. Ron DeSantis said earlier this month he wasn’t going to let bars open back up any time soon as he wanted to wait for cases and hospitalizations to continue going down.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, who attended the Orlando meetings, also said Beshears said he would be figuring out a new emergency order.
Both Eskamani and Thompson said safety measures, like having a bouncer counting how many people come in and out of a bar, were discussed. Thompson added other topics were capacity restrictions and mandatory closing times.
Eskamani wants to see guidelines in place for opening bars and breweries so the state can respond quickly if there’s another spike in coronavirus cases.
She wants to see consistent weeks of declining coronavirus infection rates before bars can return to normal but said there were great ideas shared for bars to open with limited capacity similar to restaurants.
“We need a timeline grounded by science,” Eskamani said.
She added that bar and brewery operators who attended the meetings also were interested in financial support from the state, a move she backs as they are sacrificing because of government decisions in the interest of public health.
Exactly when reopening will happen remains unclear.
“Secretary Beshears remains focused on setting a responsible path to a safe reopening as swiftly as possible,” a statement from the department said. “Following the recent meetings with representatives of bars and breweries across the state, Secretary Beshears is reviewing feedback and ideas from these business owners and considering options for a sensible plan forward.”
Thompson said he was glad brewery owners had a chance to vent and be heard at Sunday’s meeting.
“That was huge,” he said.
His business, near Exploria Stadium where Orlando City and Orlando Pride play soccer, has been selling its beer online for pickup.
“Our income is at 30% of what it was prior to the COVID,” Thompson said.
Venues that are licensed for food service have been allowed to continue letting people drink at their business.
That led Orlando’s Ivanhoe Park Brewing Co. to spend about $2,500 on a license, a pizza oven and a drop ceiling above the bar area to operate as a restaurant, owner Glenn Closson said. Sales there are down about 50% compared with last year, he said.
Closson, who also attended Sunday’s meeting, said the requirement is unfortunate because a lot of small breweries can’t afford the price after being shut down or aren’t set up to operate as restaurant.
“None of us see why having that food license is any better,” he said about coronavirus safety.
He also was less optimistic about venues without that license reopening soon.
“I have a feeling that it’s not going to be [until] the end of the year,” Closson said.
Contact Austin Fuller at [email protected] or 407-420-5664; Twitter @afullerreporter
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