Tuesday, 02 June 2020 14:54

Richmond County private club opens back while other bars wait

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Chris Sachs, owner of the Hide-A-Way Tavern, re-opened his bar Monday for the first time since mid-March, when all bars across the state were closed by one of Gov. Roy Cooper's executive orders. The VFW also opened back Monday. Chris Sachs, owner of the Hide-A-Way Tavern, re-opened his bar Monday for the first time since mid-March, when all bars across the state were closed by one of Gov. Roy Cooper's executive orders. The VFW also opened back Monday. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM —  It’s been nearly two and half months since Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all bars to shut down, but on Monday, two in Richmond County re-opened their doors.

The Hide-A-Way Tavern on Billy Covington Road was open for business at 2 p.m. Tuesday, one of the first bars, along with the Rockingham VFW, in the county to do so.

“Finally, finally,” said owner Chris Sachs. “It’s been a hard few months, that’s for sure.”

The governor’s Executive Order 115, issued March 17, demanded all restaurants and bars shut down that day at 5 p.m. as an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

That day was St. Patrick’s Day — one of the best days of the year for bars.

Since then, bar owners have missed out on revenue from another popular drinking holiday — Cinco de Mayo.

Not only did the Hide-A-Way miss out on those days, Sachs also had to put off the Annual Buddy Roe Memorial Ride for Richmond County Special Olympics.

This would have been the 11th year of the bike ride.

Last year, the event raised more than $9,000 which goes toward Special Olympics activities in the county.

“I hated missing that,” Sachs said. “We had big plans for it to do better (than last year.)

Although there are plans to hold the ride in September, Sachs said he was hesitant.

“Because if numbers spike, you don’t know if they’re going to shut the whole state back down again,” he said.

Since the closure, Sachs said things have been rough.

“Because the bills keep coming and no money was coming,” he said. “It’s tough on all the small businesses.”

Sachs is also a chicken farmer and an electrician and his wife, Felicia, is an assistant manager at Hobby Lobby.

“Thankfully, we had other income,” Sachs said. “That’s what kept us alive and paid the bills here.”

Richard Robinson, owner of Double Vision, another private club in Rockingham, has also been able to weather the closure through his other business in the communications industry, which was deemed “essential” by the government.

“Thankfully I’m in a position to play it the safe way,” Robinson said.

Robinson has already lost more than $500 just in inventory from expired kegs.

Robinson had just received a shipment on the Friday prior to Cooper’s order the following Tuesday. The kegs have a 45-day shelf life.

Sachs is selling canned beers at $1 to try to get rid of aging inventory before it expires. He estimates that he’s lost “well over” $20,000 in revenue since March.

“It’s a trickle-down effect,” Sachs said.

Bar owners and other business owners were hopeful that Cooper’s Phase 2 would include their establishments.

However, although restaurants — which had been relegated to only providing take-out and delivery service — and hair salons and a few other businesses were allowed to open at half-capacity, bars, gyms and some other businesses were left off the list.

Sachs thinks the government’s reaction to the coronavirus pandemic has been politicized more than it should.

“I think it’s been used as a political tool,” Sachs said. “They’ve killed the economy. I’ve heard that a lot of places have closed up, couldn’t make it. I’m not gonna say we weren’t far from it, too.”

Robinson agrees with Evolution Health Club owner Blake Altman that the governor’s order was discriminatory against certain types of businesses.

Altman was fined last week for violating the governor’s emergency orders by opening before the state’s say-so.

“Small businesses are the backbone of America and they’re all suffering,” Robinson said.

Although restaurants and bars aren’t exactly the same thing, Robinson said they’re based on a similar model.

“You have seating and patrons and someone taking their order,” Robinson said.

Robinson added that he didn’t see why bars weren’t allowed to reopen with the same social distancing guidelines, including spacing out the tables and barstools and closing off the dancefloor.

People should be left to make their own decisions if they want to go out or not, Robinson said.

“It’s kinda ridiculous when they opened up all the restaurants,” Sachs said. “Ninety percent of the restaurants have what? A bar.”

Not only has the governor’s order affected the bar owners and their employees, but also bands and DJs who run karaoke.

Bars in South Carolina have already been open for several weeks.

“Thankfully the ABC Commission defined new guidelines ...that made it available for us to open.”

On May 24, the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission issued guidance on legal definitions, which allowed Sachs to reopen his establishment.

Certain private and members-only clubs, like the Hide-A-Way, can fall under the definition of restaurants if pre-pandemic operations included selling food.

VFW Posts, American Legions, Elks and Moose lodges and Country Clubs also fall under that category, according to the commission.

“It’s good to be opening, but it’s great to see the people,” Sachs said. “We’ve had huge feedback on social media about opening back up.

“It’s a family around here,” Sachs added. “You get used to seeing the members and they love being here.”

Sachs and his crew have posted signs throughout the bar encouraging patrons to observe social distancing suggestions. A sign on the front door limits the occupancy to 55.

“We’re hoping things will slowly get better,” Sachs said.

More than 20 people were at the bar Monday afternoon, most to take part in a birthday parade for a 6-year-old in Ellerbe.

One of those was Crossroads Saloon owner Roger Messer.

“We’re not a private club, we don’t sell food … so we can’t open up ‘til Phase 3,” Messer said.

Robinson is also holding off until Phase 3, when all bars are expected to be allowed to open back up.

However, fans of live music will have to wait until the bars are allowed full occupancy. Robinson said the $5 cover charge with 50% capacity wouldn’t be enough to cover the bands that perform on Saturday nights.

Nonetheless, Robinson is hoping to open soon, but not just for his own pocket.

“The public deserves it more than anything,” he said. “Everyone’s been quarantined and they need something to do.”