Business groups criticize Marion County’s tougher restrictions on bars

Two industry associations with members that rely on bars to support their businesses are criticizing Marion County’s restrictive public health rules for establishments that serve alcohol.

The Indiana Amusement Operators Association and the Indiana License Beverage Association, in a statement issued late Thursday, said bars and taverns in the county are finding it almost impossible to survive due to pandemic restrictions.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and the Marion County Public Health Department on Thursday morning announced they would allow bars and restaurants to reopen, but only under tough restrictions.

Starting Tuesday, Marion County bars that do not serve food that are age-restricted (21 and over) will be allowed to reopen at 25% capacity. Those establishments were closed July 24 after the county saw a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The new directive lets bars operate at 50% capacity in outdoor seating areas, but it prohibits bar-top service, dancing and live entertainment. Customers must be seated at tables containing no more than six patrons and are required to wear masks when walking around.

Bars and nightclubs also have to close at midnight.

The rules are more restrictive than those found in the state’s pandemic recovery plan, which allows traditional bars to operate at 50% capacity and doesn’t prevent bar-top service. State guidelines say bars must adhere to social distancing guidelines but they don’t specifically address dancing or live entertainment.

The Indiana License Beverage Association said Marion County’s rules are too restrictive and are putting bars out of business.

“These locally-owned business in the hospitality industry operate on incredibly slim margins, and typically don’t have reserves that allow them to survive without revenue for months on end,” ILBA President Brad Klopfenstein said in written remarks. “It has become virtually impossible to plan staffing, or retain staff, without knowing when they may be allowed to reopen at a reasonable capacity. We are very close to seeing the end of the neighborhood bar as we know it, and most will not return.”

Industry advocates also criticized the discrepancy between the rules governing traditional bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Establishments that offered food service before March 1 and allow patrons under 21 are permitted to operate at 50% capacity. Additionally, those businesses were not forced to close July 24 like traditional bars.

The associations said the “arbitrary deadline of March 1” unfairly prevents traditional taverns from having the ability to add food service to improve their chances at survival.

“While the mantra from our elected officials has been that businesses and residents all need to evolve and adapt, these businesses are frozen in time without any recourse to change their business model,” the associations said in their statement. “With no end in sight for these restrictions, most of these independent small businesses will close within a few months.”

The Indiana Amusement Operators Association said the restrictions on bars have repercussion for other industries and vendors.

“Local bars and taverns also support industries like the coin-operated amusement industry, which is hurting as well due to restrictions on using pool tables, dart machines and video games” said a statement from Andy Shaffer of Shaffer Amusement, a member of the IAOA.

The associations said they were calling on local officials to review pandemic guidelines in consultation with business owners to find a better solution.

“We are just looking for an opportunity to make it through this pandemic intact,” Klopfenstein said. “To do that, we need common sense guidelines that support public health, but allow us to be open for business.”

In response to the associations’ complaints, the mayor’s office said it was relying on input from public health officials to establish business restrictions.

“The ongoing global pandemic has created unprecedented financial hardship for businesses small and large, and we continue to urge Congress to act to provide additional local coronavirus relief funding even as we have worked with the City-County Council to appropriate $37 million in loan and grant capacity in Marion County,” spokesman Mark Bode said in an email. “That being said, the health and safety of our residents is a matter of life and death, and the city continues to support the Marion County Public Health Department and Dr. Virginia Caine as they work with state and federal experts to update our public health orders in response to the latest data and epidemiology.”

Caine has said that bars and nightclubs need more restrictions because they attract large groups of young people who closely mingle. Virus transmission has been shown to increase when groups congregate indoors, which is why positivity rates have been escalating among young adults.

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20 thoughts on “Business groups criticize Marion County’s tougher restrictions on bars

  1. Restrictions seem made-up without measurable backing. The restrictions feel as committee think where criticism of an idea is not allowed. I am leery of government claiming they are protecting with freedom restriction. All Marion County restriction discussions need to be public with bar owners allowed to bring witnesses and experts. The closed-door make-up rules need to end.

    1. Paying any attention to what happened on college campuses…parties (aka “gatherings”) led to many more infections (not just positive tests) and colleges are on shut down. Go early and enjoy. Lay off the Mayor…its not his fault

    1. Bars ARE open. Go. Are you going to gripe when the street closures end? Will you know why? You want to be mayor?
      Put your mask on. Go to the bar. Stay away from people Go home by midnight.
      Pretty simple don’t you think

  2. Bars have the highest transmission rates of any indoor businesses. Look at data from cities around the country. Most cities reopening smartly have the same restrictions.

  3. Apparently the government thinks food keeps COVID away? If I drink at a restaurant/bar while eating dinner, I am apparently safe from catching COVID. If I drink at a bar that does not serve food, then I am going to get COVID. If I drink at a bar at 11:59pm, I am safe. If I drink at a bar at 12:01am, I am going to catch COVID.

    We can cram people into schools, apartments, dorms, stores, and workplaces, which is fine. But, as soon as you have more than 6 people at a table (even outside), you are breaking the law? I can sit at a table inside a bar without wearing a mask and be fine. If I stand in the same spot playing pool at a bar or walk one foot away from my table without wearing a mask, I am breaking the law?

    I still follow the rules and wear a mask to prevent spreading COVID. But, the rules are definitely arbitrary.

    1. Great examples of this arbitrary stupidity. How is it the mayor gets to decide who stays in business and who doesn’t. I just can’t believe we have to endure this. At what point can we say enough. Were not following your rules!

    2. no it isn’t…only by your measurements. Public health officials advising … perhaps he should draw upon your vast knowledge of disease spread, public health crisis, and wide responsibility to ALL of us. No one is intentionally trying to hurt any business. No. One.

  4. I have a daughter &Grandson dependent primarily on their music venues, that have been down now since March. What would be wrong about allowing entertainment, but limit it to no dancing. Also as long as Bars are part of a restaurant operation, then allow bar seating 6 feet apart and at tables. These folks need an income.

    1. Most bars that are also restaurants are already open. I got a beer from Mass Ave Pub a while back.

    1. move to Florida and drink in the crowd. Then test positive and you can stay a few extra days. Mar A Lago maybe?

    2. So Steve, the answer is to move? I don’t think so. I’ll stay and fight these wackjob lefties.

  5. So, it’s okay to congregate for riots & looting (don’t enforce curfew or unlawful actions), but, it shall be forbidden to dance or drink without food. Indy’s mayor is a hypocrite!

    1. And we can continue to tell all these small businesses, their employees, and their investors to pound sand?

      Why can’t we let people decide–rather than the government–the level of risk they are willing to incur? That way, we can minimize social stress from high unemployment and have a generally well-functioning economy that allows nonprofits and public social services (which are far more flush with cash if the economy is strong) to devote extra money to serve those most in need and most vulnerable.

  6. What else would expect from this loser. The absolute most incompetent Mayor in 40 years. This is what happens when politicians like Hogsett and Holcomb occupy elected positions. NEITHER have ever had private sector employment except Hogsett who tried to act like a lawyer. Indianapolis has been destroyed by this incompetent Mayor and his wingman Vop. It’s now a 2nd class city.

  7. The decision makers are not the ones going without money. Their salaries and livelihoods are preserved, so they are fine denying others. They are so good at governing; just look at the unabated rioting and protesting and the deserted or dirty streets of downtown Indianapolis.

  8. It’s unfair to not allow these businesses to open. Give them the same opportunity any restaurant gets. You can’t just put them out of business for a questionable reason–are people going to die, or just get sick? The worry about sickness from Covid is overrated. Almost everybody recovers fine. And those who are especially susceptible should just stay home. Those going should use masks and social distance.

    Typical government control killing free enterprise, and our City. Have any of you driven downtown and seen the boarded up businesses, and the very few people on the streets, most of whom look like homeless or drug dealers. Shame on the Mayor and other city leaders ! It took us decades to create a wonderful downtown, and now you’re destroying it in six months. So sad !

  9. Hogsett is a career politician that has zero concept of what it takes to own and operate a business. He hides behind his desk and pretends he cares about the community he serves. I find it interesting he can make time for the rally’s and bike rides, but not the honest working folks that pay his salary. How about you let people decide what they are comfortable with, and focus on the systemic homeless problem and crime? Great job major! You managed to destroy a downtown in 6 months that took 30 years to build.

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