ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The state moved in late June to suspend on-premises consumption of alcohol at bars in an effort to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 cases.
Thousands of new virus cases were being recorded each day -- and still are -- and images circulated of people packing into bars, skirting the guidelines set within Gov. Ron DeSantis' reopening plans.
One bar in Orlando had its license suspended after employees and customers later tested positive for COVID-19.
In the weeks since, Florida's craft brewing industry members have grown concerned about whether they can remain in business under such a ban on drinking at bars.
"For the first time in recent history, the number of active breweries has actually decreased in number, and it is our fear that this trend will rapidly accelerate if we do not find a way to balance the health of our community with the economics of our industry," reads a letter to DeSantis and Secretary Halsey Beshears of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
The open letter -- shared by Big Storm Brewing in Clearwater, Coppertail Brewing in Tampa, 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg and others -- asserts at least 100 of more than 320 small businesses in the craft beer industry are likely to close if the order remains in effect. At risk are a third of at least 10,000 jobs, it says.
Breweries, like restaurants, are permitted to operate at curbside capacity and allow alcohol sales. But the industry said this model represents about 10 percent of collective sales "and is an untenable model for our industry."
The Texas Medical Associaton earlier this month published a chart of the riskiest activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Going to a bar is considered "high risk" (a nine on a scale of 1-9) while eating inside at a restaurant is "moderate-high." Eating outside at a restaurant is considered "low-moderate."
The brewing industry in its letter says it serves its customers primarily between noon and 8 p.m. and isn't a nightclub "or your typical bar."
"The health of our community is paramount, but it cannot be at the life savings of hundreds of entrepreneurs, the livelihood of hundreds of families and the majority of an entire industry," it said.
10 Tampa Bay has reached out to the governor's office and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for a response to the letter.
"At the end of the day, I don’t understand why a brewery like ours, or those similar to us that don’t have food, why would we be in jeopardy of not being open just because our facility doesn’t serve food?" said LJ Govoni, owner of Big Storm Brewing.
"At the end of the day, does that cheeseburger keep you any safer? Of course not."
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