Dozens protest in Downtown Pittsburgh; some for bars to reopen, others to ease on-site alcohol restrictions | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Dozens protest in Downtown Pittsburgh; some for bars to reopen, others to ease on-site alcohol restrictions

click to enlarge Protesters, including restaurant owners and bartenders, rally in front of the City-County Building in Downtown Pittsburgh on Thu., July 2, 2020. - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Protesters, including restaurant owners and bartenders, rally in front of the City-County Building in Downtown Pittsburgh on Thu., July 2, 2020.
More than 40 people protested today in front of the City-County Building in Downtown Pittsburgh, against the recently announced bar closures and ban on on-site alcohol consumption at restaurants. The protesters stood on the sidewalk holding signs that read, “PA Service Industry Against PA and Allegheny County Government.” There were no speeches, and just a handful of very brief chants.

The event’s organizer, John Pavlik, didn’t attend the protest because he was awaiting his COVID-19 test results after it was revealed one of his employees at Xtra Innings Sports Bar & Grille in West Deer tested positive for coronavirus yesterday.
Today saw a record number of 233 new coronavirus cases in Allegheny County and joins part of a rapid spike in cases since June 22. Hundreds of these cases have been contact traced by Allegheny County officials, and many of them have been linked to people visiting restaurants and bars, as well as people who have traveled out of state and then back again. As a result, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced on Sunday that bars needed to close, and onsite consumption of alcohol at businesses needed to end. Enforcement started on Tuesday.

But some of the protesters didn’t believe county health officials’ assertion that restaurants and bars were a reason for the spike in positive coronavirus cases.

Dana Shaley’s family owns Mt. Royal Inn in Shaler and Jay’s Other Place in Allison Park. She attended the rally, holding a sign and wearing a mask. She doesn’t believe the lack of social distancing at bars led to a spike in cases.

“It’s okay for protesters when they had the big riot [to gather], when nobody was wearing masks,” said Shaley, referring to the large protest on May 30 in Downtown. Pittsburgh City Paper covered this protest for hours, and almost every protester was wearing a mask, as well as handing out hand sanitizer.

She also claimed that any rise in cases was linked to increased testing. She doesn’t believe the county should close bars or ban on-site alcohol consumption.

“I think the spike has nothing to do with the alcohol because if that is the case, why are liquor stores still open? Why are beer distributors still open?” asked Shaley. Bars and restaurants can still sell alcohol today, the closures just ban the on-site consumption of alcohol, since health officials said that people gathered in tight, indoor quarters without masks and talking loudly is contributing to the spread of coronavirus.

Shaley said she feels bars and restaurants are being unfairly targeted. “We were closed for three months and we opened back up for a week and then I lose my job again,” said Shaley. “It’s horrible.”

She said she would be supportive of Congress providing more federal funds to help restaurants and bars stay afloat, but “that in the long run, why is it our responsibility to ask Congress for help when they see somebody that shouldn’t have shut us down, shut us down?”

Another protester who identified herself as Pepper, said she works at Lefty’s bar in the Strip District. “I don’t believe their stats,” said Pepper, referring to the coronavirus cases counted by the county health department. “I am not saying the virus isn’t real, just don’t believe their stats.”

Lefty’s was the recent subject of a viral tweet in which a WESA reporter posted a photo showing patrons packed into the bar and not wearing masks. This photo was taken on Sunday, just shortly after the announcement of the bar closures.
Pepper said the people in that photo were part of a big group holding a family birthday party. She said that the photo didn’t show the whole bar, that there was more empty room in the back of the bar, and that the bar was not at the 50% capacity limit. She said patrons entered the bar with masks on, in accordance with the rules.

She said that bar owners and alcohol distributors are hurting for revenue and that is why she attended. She was also supportive of the idea that Congress provide funds for bars and restaurants.

“It would be nice if they acknowledged that bars need help and to help pay people,” said Pepper.

Of the 40 some protesters, many were wearing masks, but there were several who had no masks at all. Some protesters were also wearing masks, but just over their mouths, not their noses. There was also some memorabilia at the protest in support of President Donald Trump. CP overheard some protesters criticizing members of the media, saying their reporting “didn’t fit their narrative.”
However, not all protesters were calling for the bar closure and on-site alcohol consumption ban to be totally rescinded.

Len Semplice owns Redbeard’s Sports Bar & Grill restaurants in Downtown and Mount Washington. He said that his restaurants struggle to make substantial revenue without being able to sell alcohol and let patrons consume on-site. He said restaurant owners typically make 3-5% markup on food, but that “liquor is really where you make your money.”

“We are all for the safety of everyone, but the rule about no alcohol in-house just doesn’t make any sense because we can still follow the six feet between the tables and no standing at the bar,” said Semplice. “It is going to hurt the restaurant businesses. It doesn’t make sense, you can sit at the table and have a pop, but you can’t sit at the table and have a beer or glass of wine.”
click to enlarge CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Semplice said he only had six customers all day at his Downtown location yesterday. He said his restaurants have been banning people from standing at the bar and making sure seats were six feet apart and that he is a firm believer in safety. He said he would like to see the county allow for on-site alcohol consumption, but allow people to have a two-drink maximum, but only if they are ordering food.

“We are not against [all the restrictions], we want people to be safe,” said Semplice.

But many in the rally did disagree with having any restrictions on bars and restaurants. And with no speeches, and no organizer, it's unclear exactly what message got through.

After the protest, Allegheny County officials announced that all restaurants, bars, and casinos would be closed for one week starting at midnight on Fri., July 3. All activities or events involving more than 25 people are also prohibited. Food establishments can still offer take-out and delivery service during this time.

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