Bars and restaurants reflect on one year of COVID-19

Huntsville

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – One year ago, Alabama saw its first COVID-19 case.

Since all the shutdowns, many of North Alabama’s bars and restaurants are still working to make up for lost revenue.

“It was real tough in the beginning. Real, real tough,” said Jabar Westbrook, who owns Good Timez Billards, The Hideaway Bar and Grille, and a number of other nightlife spots across Huntsville.

As COVID-19 set in last March, Westbrook said he watched as his revenue began to plummet.

“It’s like almost a sudden stop to everything. They allowed you to serve food and do curbside service, but no dine-in. Two of my businesses shut completely down for three months,” said Westbrook.

Like many bars and restaurants across the region, his revenue heavily depends on alcohol sales.

“At one of my bars, we actually cut all the staff except for me and the cook. They have families to feed, bills to pay, and it got real tough with no revenue coming in,” said Westbrook.

Westbrook was finally able to hire some of those employees back when customers were allowed to return indoors, but statewide COVID-19 regulations still made business challenging. Crowd capacity limitations began at 25 percent, eventually grew to 50 percent, and customers were expected to wear masks and socially distance, but Westbrook said policing them was often no easy task. Those policies were then followed by a temporary 11 p.m. liquor sales curfew.

“It definitely hampered the business a lot because, you know, if you can’t serve alcohol after 11 then you might as well close at 11,” said Westbrook.

But Westbrook said that despite the challenges COVID-19 safety protocols have placed on his businesses, he still plans to conduct temperature checks of his guests once the statewide mask mandate ends on April 9.

“I still will do temperature checks, yeah, until nobody is talking about COVID. I just think that’s the safe thing to do,” said Westbrook.

As for the new rule allowing restaurants and bars to seat more than six people at large tables, part of the Governor’s latest mask order, Westbrook thinks it will be good for business in the long-run, but said it might take some time until most people are comfortable meeting in large crowds again.

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