Health Department to re-evaluate 10 p.m. closing time
Several restaurant and bar owners in Wyandotte County told a Unified Government committee on Monday night that they were on the ropes because of an earlier closing time aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19.
Stacy Damron, the owner of the Coach Lite Club at 2103 S. 34th St., told UG commissioners that small mom-and-pop bars are the ones that are hurting, and some are not getting any revenue at all. Yet they have to pay electric bills, mortgage and tax bills, he said.
Restaurants and bars were ordered by the UG Health Department to close by 10 p.m. on Nov. 20 in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, which was increasing in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Area counties tried to order the same closing time across the area, but Johnson County opted instead to close at midnight.
When asked by commissioners if they had applied for a UG grant for small businesses, Damron said they tried, but they were told that the UG ran out of money before they got there.
Commissioner Tom Burroughs, chair of the Economic Development and Finance Committee, encouraged him to apply for a grant again, so that they can be put on a list for the next available funding.
Alan Howze, UG assistant administrator, said they are awaiting additional guidance about funding from the stimulus bill passed at the end of the year.
Earlier in the meeting, Shaya Lockett, small business liaison in the economic development department, reported that the UG was able to distribute more than $1.3 million in COVID-19 relief to businesses in Wyandotte County.
The UG received 133 business applications and awarded 90 grants to the businesses, from the different areas of the county. Seventy of the businesses had 25 or fewer employees, she said. The funding was from CARES Act funds, from UG economic development small business grants, and Alt-Cap funding, she said.
Melissa Nead, co-owner of the Dotte Spot Bar and Grill at 8123 Parallel Parkway, told the commission it has been a tough year for small businesses, and especially tough for the restaurant business.
The small woman-owned business has about 10 employees, all of whom live in Wyandotte County, she said.
They have complied with all the guidelines and mask-wearing, and have taken half the tables out of service in the dining room, she said. They are following reduced capacity mandates, she added.
But with the earlier 10 p.m. closing hour, they are watching their customers walk across county lines and spend their money in Johnson and Leavenworth counties, she said. In Leavenworth County, some places are open until 2 a.m.
While she understands why the health order was put in place, “it is killing us,” she said. They can’t see paying rent, taxes, licenses, utilities, insurance with such limited operating hours on top of capacity and social distancing requirements, she said.
“The clock is ticking for many small businesses in Wyandotte County.”Melissa Nead, Dotte Spot Bar and Grill
“The clock is ticking for many small businesses in Wyandotte County,” she said. “They are all on life support now.
“We need help from the UG and need it fast,” she said. She asked for the 10 p.m. mandate to be changed to midnight so they can compete in the metro area.
Kim Pond, owner of the Red Eye Bar at 6102 State Ave., asked that this closing time issue be put on a future UG Commission agenda and voted on.
While the restaurants and bars lost all the major holidays in 2020, beginning with St. Patrick’s Day, the Hollywood Casino got to stay open, Pond said.
Pond said the biker bar does a lot of charity work for the community, holding motorcycle runs to raise funds. But there were only a handful of charity events this year, she said.
People are leaving Wyandotte County with Wyandotte County money, spending it in other counties, Pond said.
“Everybody is losing money,” she said. “A lot of places are going to close down due to the loss of income.”
Blake Lostal, owner of the Colonial Club, 322 N. 5th, said the club has had to let six employees go and can’t bring them back.
He mentioned that churches and casinos were not required to follow the same restrictions as bars and restaurants.
“This is not a fair playing field,” Lostal said. “We just want to be fair.”
He suggested changing the closing time to midnight.
“Let us make some money, survive and get through this.”Blake Lostal, Colonial Club
“Let us make some money, survive and get through this,” Lostal said.
He wanted to know when the vote was going to be on this issue. No vote on it was scheduled on Monday night.
Vicki Kobialka-Freeman, owner of Kobi’s Bar and Grill, 113 Oak St., Bonner Springs, said the business has been there for 33 years, and with COVID-19, this year has been bad for everyone, with every business suffering.
The 10 p.m. closing time is an important issue to Kobi’s, as Johnson County bars that stay open until midnight are only minutes away, and Leavenworth County bars also are only minutes away and can stay open until 2 a.m.
The time restrictions are driving customers and businesses away, she said.
The bar has had to lay off about half of its normal operating staff since March, she said. Some staff were hesitant to return to work, and some customers went to other places that did not have time restrictions.
Kobi’s has been in compliance with all the COVID-19 mandates, she added.
Based on the numbers from the past two quarters, they will probably have to close their doors one or two days a week, she said.
The losses will not only affect the small businesses, but also the counties and states, she said.
Juliann Van Liew, director of the UG Health Department, said, “This is awful. We agree that this is awful.”
These are not decisions that they take lightly, she said. They are not trying to be punitive or target certain businesses, she said. They are trying to make the best decisions they can with the information they have, she added.
“We absolutely hear you and we are going to commit to re-evaluating this among ourselves and with our fellow jurisdictions in the Core 4.”Juliann Van Liew, UG Health Department director
“We absolutely hear you and we are going to commit to re-evaluating this among ourselves and with our fellow jurisdictions in the Core 4,” Van Liew said.
Dr. Erin Corriveau, deputy health officer for Wyandotte County, said she was grateful that businesses were sharing their experiences.
She also echoed that they hear the businesses and said they will take it back to Friday’s directors meeting.
They initially went to a 10 p.m. order to create a consistency around the metropolitan area, and the inconsistent area is Johnson County, she said.
“We’ve already reached out to them, and are having conversations with Johnson County as well,” she said. They will commit to continuing those conversations, she said.
They want to create some consistency in the community, she said.
Currently, those who are in their 20s and 30s make up the most COVID-19 cases in Wyandotte County, Dr. Corriveau said.
“Whereas it’s true that we don’t see many people dying or hospitalized in that age group, unfortunately it does just propagate the spread of the virus, and the virus is the real issue here,” Dr. Corriveau said. “We are still continuing to see severe illness and death from the virus. So we continue to worry about any cases that come up in our community, and are trying to tamp that down.”
The economic and mental health effects of the virus also are on their minds, and they will take this information back this week to their colleagues from other jurisdictions for a better look at it, Dr. Corriveau said.
Dr. Allen Greiner, Wyandotte County health officer, said they really appreciate the information.
They know it has had a devastating effect. He said they are trying to balance getting the community back to normal, against moving ahead with things that might be risky. They want to continue to balance things, he said. They would like to be like places in the world that have been able to return to business as usual, he added. They will work on it and encourage the metropolitan area to get back on the same page, he said.
Commissioner Burroughs said continued mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing will ensure that they can push back against the virus as much as possible.
Van Liew said the vaccines are the other part of the solution, and the UG has set up a site to give COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as they are possible.
The UG Committee meeting is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGu8Mt0Ipqk.