CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday ordered all of Florida bars and nightclubs close for 30 days in an attempt to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
The announcement was a blow to businesses across the state, including in Northeast Florida, where there was some backlash from those who make their living on nightlife.
In Orange Park, customers streamed out of Cheers bar right at 5 p.m. Tuesday -- the deadline that the governor gave bars and nightclubs to shut down.
“Everybody was kind of grumpy about it, but we’re here to obey the law and support the community,” said John Lewis, the head bartender at Cheers. “Of course, it sucks for everybody -- trying to do the right thing and the virus, obviously, scaring everybody.”
Lewis said the monthlong closure is going to be devastating to the roughly dozen employees at Cheers.
“It happened all of a sudden, and our employees are a little worried about paychecks because they work day to day or week to week,” he said, adding that it was the worst time of the year for this to happen. “St. Patrick’s Day, of course, everyone wants to come in and have a good time.”
But there are some questions about who will shut down. News4Jax noticed a pool hall in Orange Park was open well after 5 p.m., though pool halls operate under somewhat different regulations than bars.
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Down in Green Cove Springs, the owner of Saloon 17 said he was not happy with the governor’s mandate.
“It’s going to kill the economy, definitely. I can guarantee you that,” said Kevin Kobec, the owner of Saloon 17. “It’s really going to be a bad thing because from what I’m hearing what are they going to do -- give me a loan to help me out of this hole for 30 days and I’m supposed to pay it back. That’s ridiculous.”
Customers said they were not happy with the move to close, but they understand it.
“Everybody’s affected by this -- bartenders, business owners, everybody,” customer Skylar Salsburg said. “I think it’s actually the smart thing to do, honestly.”
Kobec told News4Jax he would not shut down until someone came in-person to tell him to.
“I’m waiting until somebody comes and knocks on my door and tells me to go home,” he said.
Saloon 17 did not close down right at 5 p.m. Tuesday. As the night went on, News4Jax noticed the light on the open sign turn off, but a lot of customers were still inside. But a deputy later came and made Saloon 17 shut down.
The governor’s order is for establishments that sell majority alcohol. Restaurants with bars are not included if the majority of their sales are food. Though DeSantis also said restaurants must operate at 50% capacity.