Bar owners, employees holding out hope that they can reopen again soon

Some bars in Southwest Florida could reopen soon. The state is talking with bar owners about plans to allow alcohol sales indoors again.

The first round of talks is happening in Jacksonville and, by next week, they could happen here.

Bar owners say their survival and the survival of their employees depend on it. Right now, the state allows bars to sell alcohol to go, but most owners say that’s not going to keep them in business.

So bar owners and workers are holding their breath hoping for a sign they may be able to reopen again.

“It’s just a disaster,” said Raimond Aulen, owner of the 86 Room in downtown Fort Myers.

When the state ordered all bars to stop serving alcohol in June, that basically killed their business. The talks of a compromise are giving some owners a little bit of hope.

“I’m happy to hear that something is going on because everybody’s got to regain their sanity,” Aulen said.

While he’s hopeful he can serve customers again soon, that’s measured by his fear.

“They have a whole new routine going on and it is really hard to change people’s patterns and habits and behavior and get them back into the swing of things where they are patronizing the establishments,” he said.

Meanwhile, bartenders and other bar workers suffer.

“It’s been kind of devastating to not be able to work my normal job,” said Ashley Gilbert, the head bartender at CJ’s Tavern in Punta Gorda. “I’ve had to get another job at a place which is good for now but it’s definitely a huge pay cut for what I’m used to making bartending.”

The stress of it all can be overwhelming.

We’ve learned at least two people have committed suicide because of the shutdown of bars and breweries since the pandemic hit.

Another worry bar owners have is that the state will let the data drive the decision on whether to reopen.

We asked you what it would take for you to feel safe inside a bar again. Many of you say a vaccine would be required first. Others say if customers wear masks. One person said they just want to rent the bar for themselves for six hours and have personal service! Tell us your thoughts on our Facebook post below.

Reporter:Michelle Mackonochie
Writer:Briana Harvath
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