How business owners are managing as LA recloses bars due to COVID-19 spike

Ten days ago, bars reopened in LA County after being closed for months due to the coronavirus. Nine days ago, half a million people went out for a drink, according to the county’s Department of Public Health. 

As of today, bars are closed again. Governor Gavin Newsom shut down bars in six counties immediately. He cited the rapid pace of the spreading coronavirus. LA County reported its second highest daily total of new cases on Sunday — more than 2500. 

Angie Sharma-Weisberger, whose family owns Elvie’s Inn in Covina, learned about the new shutdown order via social media. At the time, her reopened bar was full of customers. 

“We did have everybody wearing masks. ... We have plexiglass dividers between the bartenders and the patrons. And then we also built, on our own, plexiglass dividers to stand in between our small tables. Since we're such a small bar, it's not possible for us to keep the six feet distancing between patrons,” she says.

Bob Kunz, owner of Highland Park Brewery (which also serves food), says he reopened on Saturday for the first time in three months. 

“Then Sunday, basically around 1:00, we got the orders that bars were closing, which meant we don't have to close. But we pretty much opened our doors and began starting to plan what it looks like for us to close our doors. Because I'm foreseeing that dining is going to close as well,” he says. 

Kunz says he’s trying to figure out different ways to generate more revenue so he doesn’t have to lay off people again.

As for Sharma-Weisberger’s employees, she says they’ll all have to be laid off. “Unfortunately, we're going to have to let them all go. So that way, they could continue to collect any kind of benefits that are available due to them, since we have no idea how long we're going to be shut down for. … But we did offer all of them their jobs when we restarted, and we will do the same thing whenever we're eventually allowed to reopen again.”

What does Sharma-Weisberger think the state should be doing right now? 

“The state is really struggling to communicate with everyone that they need to. … What would have been a more efficient and effective way was if we did at least have one source, where we could then see what our regulations are supposed to be in a more clear format. And when things like this change, we would be able to look to a secure source of information. Right now we're getting our guidance from so many sources that we have to try to figure out who are we supposed to be listening to?” she says.

She says she understands and appreciates that Gov. Gavin Newsom is trying hard to keep everyone safe, but this is a difficult way to run businesses. 

“What should have happened is that when those health inspectors inspected the restaurants, and 50% were not in compliance, I would have rather the threat been, ‘If you're not in compliance upon inspection, you're going to be shut down immediately.’ Then that would take all of the bad players out of the game. And then it would encourage all the other restaurants who are being good owners to continue to stay in business,” she says.

Kunz says he agrees with Sharma-Weisberger. “I feel dearly for all the restaurants out there,” he says. 

—Written by Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski