Reno’s food and beverage industry is fighting its way out of COVID-19’s economic stranglehold.
Washoe County’s on-again, off-again bar ban ends next week. And some downtown restaurants will be taking tables to the streets in an effort to regain some of the seating — and revenue — lost to the pandemic-related precautions.
The developments come as a relief to business owners struggling to maintain their livelihoods in what has become an open-ended health and economic crisis. Restaurants closed March18 and were allowed to reopen May 9, but are limited to 50% indoor capacity. Bars closed March 18 and reopened May 29. Then establishments that sold alcohol but didn’t offer food service were ordered to close again on July 11 in response to a local spike in COVID-19 cases.
“This (reopening) was a concerted effort led by both city and county officials on the behalf of us small business owners who have been affected the most by these closures for the past seven months,” said Larry DeVincenzi, who owns the Midtown cocktail bar Rum Sugar Lime. “It’s obviously a tremendous relief to the many independent bar, tavern, brewery and winery owners who have not been able to operate at all after our brief reopening this summer.”
Bars and other establishments that sell alcohol will be able to open by Sept. 16. A group of about 30 local bar owners who formed the Washoe County Bar/Taproom Coalition worked with officials to develop new operating standards. Employees will be required to wear masks and will be screened for virus symptoms before work. Establishments will be limited to 50% capacity and have at least 6 feet of distance between tables.
Customers are required to wear masks in order to enter the establishments. Interactive games, such as darts and pool, are banned under the standards. Employees are required to masks at all times, except when actively eating or drinking.
“We deserve the chance to show we can operate safely,” DeVincenzi said. “I have confidence we will. I also have confidence that those who don’t follow the state’s directives and restrictions will be shut down knowing what the risks are to our community. If everyone would just wear a mask, wash their hands, use sanitizer and keep some distance between parties, life will be much more enjoyable for everyone.”
Washoe, Nye bars open; Clark stays dark
Washoe County health officials, concerned about unregulated private house parties being “super spreaders” of the virus, had advocated reopening bars weeks ago, but the state’s COVID-19 Mitigation and Management Task Force turned down the idea. But on Sept. 10, the task force voted to allow the establishments to reopen in Washoe County, as well as in the town of Pahrump in Nye County. Other bars in Nye had earlier been allowed to open, but Pahrump had experienced a cluster of cases.
Bars in Clark County remain shuttered. The task force declined to open them, citing the county’s high case rate of about 490 cases on average per 100,000 residents, which translates into a high test positivity rate of 11.2 percent. In contrast, Washoe County’s test rate is 7.3 percent, officials reported.
In downtown Reno, meanwhile, some eateries will be taking their tables into the streets on weekends this fall. On Labor Day weekend, the Downtown Reno Partnership – along with the Blind Dog Tavern and Liberty Food and Wine Exchange – set up a dining area between the two businesses at First and Sierra streets. The city closed the road, with the caveat that if customers turned the experience into a “block party,” such closures wouldn’t be repeated.
Customers welcome the great outdoors
The experiment was a success, according to both business owners and customers.
Dave Mulligan of Reno, who tried the outdoor dining option the first day it was offered, said it’s a welcome addition to downtown.
“My wife, Wendy, and I live within walking distance, just a mile west of downtown, right on the river,” Mulligan said. “We truly enjoy walking into town on weekends and have missed it recently, due to COVID-caused limitations. Having an outdoor dining and drinking opportunity, right in front of our favorite restaurant (Liberty Food & Wine Exchange) was a great excuse to head down again. “
He said the experience was great for “people-watching while being able to socialize with old and new friends at a safe distance.” Mulligan noted that with the usual outdoor events of summer, such as the Rib Cook-Off and the Italian Festival cancelled, “it’s a great compromise between what we have now and how our summers here usually are… We hope they’ll do it again soon. We’ll definitely be there, with our masks on.”
The restaurants involved and city officials also were pleased with the result of the try-out, said Mike Higdon, marketing manager for the Downtown Reno Partnership. He said other restaurants are interested in the plan and the city may accommodate the outdoor seating with further partial downtown street closures on weekends in October.