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Ybor bar owner pleads for Gov. DeSantis to decide on a reopening timeline

TAMPA, Fla. — A Tampa Bay area business owner is pleading with Governor Ron DeSantis to loosen the choke-hold on bars, by giving more answers on a reopening date.

This Labor Day weekend, stools are up, bottles sit untouched and bands are absent from the stage at Crowbar in Ybor. The bar has been closed since St. Patrick’s Day, 174 days ago. It’s bleeding Crowbar owner Tom DeGeorge dry.

“What they’ve [government] done if you’re licensed as a bar owner is despicable. They’ve given us very little chance of our business surviving during this pandemic,” said DeGeorge.

DeGeorge is losing $10,000 every month his bar stays closed. This year, he’s down half a million dollars and he took out $300,000 in loans to stay afloat.

“What people at home that don’t own a business need to understand is when the governor ordered ourselves shut, they didn’t put a freeze on any bills,” he said.

To survive, he’s since spent thousands more to work toward getting a food license, to buy equipment and to convert part of his bar to a kitchen. It’s a move that will ultimately cost him money when he reopens but necessary to jump the legal hoops toward reopening.

“I can’t wait any longer for them to figure out what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense,” he said.

On Thursday, came another curveball. Gov. DeSantis joined a round-table discussionof bars and breweries in St. Petersburg and discussed the way forward to reopen bars. Restrictions were put into place on bars and breweries in late June, after statewide noncompliance with coronavirus safety protocols.

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These restrictions especially hit businesses that don’t serve food. Currently, they cannot sell alcohol on-site, leading to a boom in businesses — like the Crowbar — converting from a bar license to a restaurant license.

“I want every business in Florida operating,” said Gov. DeSantis during the Sept. 4 roundtable. “We pretty much have 99%, you guys are kinda the last ones.”

At the end of the round-table discussion, Gov. DeSantis provided scant details. Gov. DeSantis did not give a time frame for when a reopening could happen or future restrictions on bars but said he hoped it would be “very soon.”

“Every time they change a decision… it impacts us, even more, it causes us to have to spend even more money,” said DeGeorge.

He says he’ll continue with the food license route and expects to open doors to the Crowbar in October. Meanwhile, he is pleading with the governor to loosen the choke-hold by giving owners some answers.

“We need to know what the grand plan is. What this master plan is they’ve said they were going to come up with. We need to know. That’s all we’re asking for,” he said.

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