Richland County bar and restaurant owners say they should be allowed to be fully opened during the hours allowed under their state liquor permits. A group of a half dozen owners and operators met Tuesday with the Richland County commissioners to present statistics and arguments they hope the board can use to convince Gov. Mike DeWine to immediately remove the 10 p.m. restriction on the sale of alcohol that was issued in late July to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve complied with everything they’ve asked and now there’s this task force coming at us and trying to monitor our business and keep us in check, for lack of a better term,” said Tom Zellner, owner of the Warehouse Tavern in Mansfield and the person who spearheaded the group. “It’s becoming catastrophic for our businesses in this region. We’ve done our best to comply with all the social distancing requirements they have given us, and we just want to know where the science is behind this 10 o’clock.”
Zellner presented a petition with the signatures of 32 bar and restaurant owners and operators that were gathered over two days asking for action and showing their decrease in revenue since the COVID crisis. Figures ranged from 20% to 60% loss compared to last year. No specific dollar amounts were reported.
The owners and operators pointed out that their busiest hours usually had been from 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., with many customers not starting to come in until 9:30 p.m. In addition to lost liquor sales, they said they’ve lost revenue from jukebox play and other coin-operated revenue while employees are out tip money.
They also said band members who had been scheduled to perform have lost money because of the reduced hours. “We lost every Final Friday. That is huge for every bar and restaurant downtown. The trickle-down effect is unbelievable,” said one owner/operator.
Those in attendance also said the early sales cutoff is causing binge drinking because customers have no time to migrate to other establishments. One person said customers will order three or four drinks so they can have them before the 10 p.m. sales cutoff.
The group pointed out that there are a number of programs provided by the Ohio Liquor Control Commission to teach tavern owners and alcohol servers to recognize when they should stop serving an intoxicated guest. “They’ve trusted us the entire time we’ve been licensed and serving alcohol to be responsible, but now I don’t understand how we’ve failed to be responsible moving forward,” another owner said.
The owners’ and operators’ petition points out they have complied with distancing orders by removing tables for six-foot separation, using Plexiglas shields and masks, placing hand sanitizer around the premises, constantly wiping and sanitizing, reducing occupancy and installing barriers between tables. They asked commissioners to support their request that the restrictions be ended immediately or at a minimum that, when they run out on Nov. 1, establishments will have the opportunity to operate as their state licensure allows.
Commissioner Marilyn John said she has talked with someone in the industry who told her that at least 14% of the restaurants that closed because of the epidemic are closed permanently. “The state says 98% of the state is open. Most of those here say it’s not,” she said.
In other business, commissioners approved a memo of agreement (MOA) with the Ohio State Preservation Office on a mitigation involving a roof replacement project at Dayspring, the county’s assisted living facility. The MOA allows officials to begin restoration work on a 19th century laundry outbuilding in exchange for using asphalt shingles to replace the slate roof on the main building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Dayspring Director Michelle Swank told the board that the facility was awarded $100,000 in federal community development block grant funds to help cover the nearly $400,000 cost of the new asphalt roof that would have the appearance of slate. However, the Ohio Historical Society reviewed the project and determined replacing the slate with asphalt would constitute an adverse effect on the historic nature of the building.
“We had three options at that point — reject the $100,000 and do the project ourselves, put the slate roof on, which was just under $900,000, or seek mitigation. So we went through mitigation,” Swank said.
Dayspring worked with Richland County Regional Planning and Richland County Historical Society President Alan Wigton on a mitigation plan that combines $20,000 in Dayspring funds with a $20,000 state grant to begin work on the laundry building. The agreement also includes allowing a window workshop by the local historical society to repair the building windows.
“The building is significant. It’s a Victorian building, the same time as the (old) Richland County courthouse, the children’s home, the sheriff’s jail and all those buildings are gone, so it’s the last of its era that remains on the grounds,” Wigton explained via conference call. “It’s part of the Dayspring historic designation, so its historic significance is important.”
On a separate issue, commissioners agreed to use COVID relief funds to digitize 359 indexes, appearance dockets and journals from 1900 through 1996 in the clerk of courts office so everything is in one place and easier for her employees and the public to access. The main concern during a meeting last week with Clerk of Courts Lin Frary was whether the work could be completed by the Dec. 30 federal deadline.
After meeting Tuesday with Frary and a representative of the company that will do the scanning and digitizing, the board agreed that any work not completed by the deadline will be paid out of the clerk’s computerization account and, if necessary, a county records center account.
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Bar and restaurant owners seek county’s help to fully reopen