Caldwell: Oahu’s bars, nightclubs likely shuttered until at least December

Updated: Sep. 22, 2020 at 3:18 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - While the reopening strategy for Oahu businesses announced by Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Tuesday was likely well-received by many sectors of the island’s economy, leaders in Hawaii’s bar and nightclub industry say the new orders leave them behind ― and the decision will likely mean a death blow to many Oahu establishments.

Under the revised order, many of the non-essential businesses that were closed for most of September will be allowed to reopen on Thursday under myriad restrictions.

Those restrictions will be lessened in tiers based on coronavirus infection metrics, with each tier scheduled to last for at least one month. But only two sectors in the plan are being forced to remain closed for multiple tiers: outdoor organized team sports, and Oahu’s bars and nightclubs.

Because of the city’s tiered structure, bars and nightclubs are expected to be forced to remain closed well into December, the mayor says.

“Yeah, if that’s the question, most likely that’s the case,” Mayor Caldwell replied simply, when asked to confirm that aspect of the plan.

Bar owners and operators, like Justin Park of Bar Leather Apron, says he isn’t sure if he ― or any of this contemporaries in the industry ― will be able to survive.

“I think most (bars and nightclubs) are beyond the breaking point,” Park told Hawaii News Now after the mayor’s announcement. "They’re trying to do anything to survive. I don’t know how to answer if we’re gonna be okay or not.

“I hope yes, I think not,” he added.

Park says the city’s blanket approach to bars ― “we’re kind of just corralled together” ― hasn’t worked for any other aspects of the economy, and questions why it continues to be applied to bars.

“Bar Leather Apron is a more controlled environment than most restaurants I’ve been in,” Park says. “The seating is already limited, 80% of our business is reservation, and I feel like whatever we do (to get in line with COVID-19 guidelines) turns out to be not good enough.”

Park has a simple if not strict suggestion: Caldwell and the city should determine a set of requirements that would allow bars to reopen, and then make the penalties so harsh that if you break them once, you’re out of business.

“Instead of everyone going down for those who can’t follow the order,” he said.

When asked if bars and nightclubs would be extended any additional lifelines, given the additional impact the new order would have on them, Mayor Caldwell said only that that they would be able to apply for small business grants that are being offered to everyone.

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