Reopening California: When will San Francisco bars reopen?

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Gov. Gavin Newsom gave bars the go ahead to reopen in early June amid the coronavirus pandemic, but not in the entire Bay Area. He left that decision to each individual county. In San Francisco, that isn't expected to happen until mid-August. When they do reopen, they will likely look much different.

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"This bar area too, we molded this, so it's all custom, all sealed, all the way to the end," said Robert Cole, owner of the Tool Shed bar in Palm Springs.

Though no date has been given, Cole is preparing to reopen with COVID-19 precautions in place. Barriers have been installed around the bar to separate the customers from the bartenders.

"We will be taking the temperature of the customers when they come in, the customers will use hand sanitizer when they come in, and then the customers have triple layer disposable masks they throw away," said Cole.

It is one of the many ways going out will be different as we live with the coronavirus.

These modifications aren't cheap. The owner of the Tool Shed says the first round of modifications cost him $4,000. It's a relatively small amount compared to what he's lost being closed for more than two-and-a-half-months.

"We're going to be at least $300,000 down or more," said Cole.

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San Francisco is the queen of nightlife in Northern California. The city is home to 453 bars, which is more than any other Bay Area county.

Mayor London Breed says bars may reopen in mid-August, five months after shelter-in-place rules went into place.

But bar owners don't know what they need to do to prepare.

Bruce Jennison is one of the owners of the Lone Star Saloon in the South of Market neighborhood.

"I feel like I am in a cocoon right now, as far as what's going on, you know we're all, the employees are on unemployment, were just kind of in stasis," said Jennison.

He's willing to make changes to get his staff back to work and open his doors.

"If it means we can have as steady business, until things return to normal, whatever normal is, yeah of course," said Jennison.

But the city hasn't been communicating with bar owners on what they need to do prepare for reopening.

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"The information has been pretty vague, and not really helpful at all," said Jennison.

While the city has not given direct orders for reopening bars, the state has been bending rules to allow bars to serve alcohol.

"This has been awful for everyone," said John Carr with the state department of Alcohol Beverage Control. "And it's not just a health crisis, it's an economic crisis too, and so, whatever we can do to ease that economic pain, we're going to do it, provided we can do it without compromising public safety."

Carr tells us that the ABC has been working with local officials to come up with creative ways to keep bars open. That includes possibly opening up outdoor spaces to spread people out, and relaxing other regulations, such as take-out cocktails and food service.

"The regulatory relief is going to stay in effect until the pandemic has concluded," said Carr.

At Rye Bar on Geary Street in San Francisco, customers would normally be gathering for happy hour, but not now.

Owner Greg Lindgren says the state's regulatory relief has helped keep some staff on the job. He owns three bars in the city.

"We've been able to pivot and sell bottled cocktails to go and also delivered," said Lindgren.

They've been selling craft cocktails and food door-side, advertising on social media.

"Business has been going better than we thought it would," he said. "We're selling bottles every day, and we've gotten fairly good at becoming, I'd say, like a retail store, or an e-commerce business."

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The take-out and delivery service is bringing in about 25-percent of the bars usual income. Not a lot, but enough to get by with the help of loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, also known as PPP.

Across town, the owners of The Sea Star near the Chase Center were just starting to see their business boom when shelter-in-place forced them to close. They had to get creative when business dried up, selling what was on their shelves. Business is down 95-percent.

Co-Owner Ryan Gilbert said they were, "selling off inventory that we had to try to pay the bills."

They are now partnering with a neighboring restaurant to sell cocktails to-go.

We're not rich from it by any means, but it is a little bit of way to keep ourselves present in the community," said co-owner Alicia Walton.

The Sea Star is still alive for now, but, the owners worry what will happen when bars eventually open for service. The Sea Star is a small bar, with a maximum capacity of 49 people. Any limits will be costly.

Ryan Gilbert "we need to be at our full legal capacity to even to hope to make... To do better than break even, said Gilbert. "And the people who are in here, need to be drinking," added Walton.

The San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, the organization that represents many of the San Francisco's bars, is appealing to the Mayor to reopen businesses sooner. The city's says the timeline for allowing certain businesses and activities to resume will be adjusted as needed based on public health data.

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