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Florida Bars Reopened Monday: Not Soon Enough For Some Struggling Owners

YBOR CITY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - Florida bar owners were able to reopen their businesses Monday after an amendment to the state's Executive Order was lifted. Bars can reopen at 50% capacity as long as they follow social distancing and Covid-prevention rules.

While most bar owners are relieved at the fact they can now reopen their doors for business, Kevin Lilly, Founder and Owner of Rock Brothers Brewing in Ybor says he still has a few things to get off his chest.

"We were the first to close and the last to open. We have specifically been closed very long.. and lost a lot of money. As a brewery, it's been a double-edged sword because we also brewed more beer in May anticipating the June opening. What do you think happened to my wholesale beer sales when the bars closed? Nothing. Garbage," said Lilly. He was forced to dispose of the beer.

Lilly did not "reopen" his bar on Monday, however, as he's been open for three weeks already. After he and his fellow bar owners in the industry began coping with their losses from closing down, they then began asking questions.

"You know, we didn't really know what to do, obviously. We all kind of accepted this eight-week closure," said Lilly. "It got kind of… very off putting because we started to see other people open, other people doing things and then we're going 'hey.. what's going on'."

To legally circumvent the shutdown, he began toying with ideas like food and cigar sales. In May, Lilly says he was given some hope. "So what happened in May is that the state told us that we were going to be able to open in June, that's what they told us," said Lilly.

He scratched the food and cigar idea to avoid more cost. "So then I went and spent more money to brew beer to be open in June and then two weeks later when they let us reopen on June 5th, they shut us down again," he said.

This not only set him back the $30,000 he was paying to stay in business but another $10,000 to $20,000 in new beer he had just brewed. On top of this he had no plan and things became hopeless. Nearly three months later though, state officials sat down with Lilly and his fellow bar business owners at a roundtable to discuss a next step.

"The answer from Beshears was, 'all I can say is get your food license'. That was his answer. I said, 'well number one, why wasn't this told to us back in June. I would have done this a long time ago," said Lilly.

So over the last three weeks, Lilly and others have begun incorporating food into their sales. And the lift on the executive order, allowing bars to reopen came soon after. But Lilly wants to be sure the message is clear that bar reopenings are long overdue.

"I had over 100 shows cancelled that were on the books. Looking ahead, I'm having to do everything I can to just get people in the door, give them a safe, enjoyable time and get my room filled with as much private parties and things I can do locally," said Lilly "Bars are not the enemy. We [need to make] livings too. We have a right to earn money and there are people out there doing a good job.. and we just want to earn a living."

His recently built food stand won't go to waste. Kevin Lilly says he plans to revamp it to create a chefs tasting table for whisky, wine and cheese, renaming that section of the bar, Bar 509 after the Florida Statute 509 food license that allowed him to reopen.

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