Springfield restaurant, bar owners hope for later alcohol curfew

Springfield bar and restaurant owners are hoping the 10 p.m. last call curfew for alcohol sales will be pushed back to help their small businesses as industry representatives pressure state officials.

The Ohio Restaurant Association sent a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine asking for the curfew to be pushed back to midnight as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

In his letter to DeWine, Ohio Restaurant Association President and CEO John Barker said his organization’s surveys show half of Ohio’s restaurant owners and operators “don’t expect their businesses to survive into 2021 if conditions stay the same.”

“Nights are terrible," Abby Boswell, owner of Wayside Tavern said. "People tend to not even come in at all during the early evenings because they don’t want to be rushed.”

“It’s just terrible. People are leaving. You aren’t seeing the large crowds right before the game," Tina Ramsey, owner of O’Conners Irish Pub said. “It’s a shame that we can’t utilize our 2:30 a.m. (liquor) license that we paid for.”

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The 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales took effect on July 31 in an effort to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, but it has severely affected the restaurant and bar industry.

Ramsey said it is a “stressful situation sitting there watching the time clock and reminding people that they only have a limited time.”

She explained that at 9 p.m. she goes to every table and reminds them of the 10 p.m. curfew, but it never fails that the bar is slammed at 9:55 p.m.

“At 9:59 p.m. I stop serving," Ramsey said. "I’m not going to risk it.”

Three Clark County establishments have been cited since reopening. Pat & Martha’s Tavern in Medway, was cited for violating coronavirus related reopening policies that alleged the bar was opened when it should not have been in May. The Layne Lounge in Park Layne was cited for on-premises consumption of alcohol after 11 p.m. in August and Taylor’s Tavern in Springfield was cited for on-premises consumption of alcohol after 11 p.m. last weekend.

Boswell agreed that implementing the curfew is stressful, but said her customers are very compliant. She added that when the Ohio Liquor Control Commission made the rule, restaurants and bars were left with loose guidelines to follow. She said that she wishes the rule was clarified more.

In addition to the curfew, restaurants and bars are grappling with a reduced seating capacity, new social distancing guidelines and a lack of sales.

At Wayside Tavern, the capacity is usually 112 people, Boswell said. Due to the pandemic, their capacity is 24 people.

“We were lucky," Boswell said. “We were one of the few bars that were able to stay open in Springfield (because they served food).”

Boswell added that their day sales have increased, but their sales overall have decreased by at least $600 a day.

“We make our money off of alcohol and beer," Ramsey said. "The food is to keep you here.”

Ramsey said that she is down 40 percent in daily sales because of the pandemic.

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Prior to the pandemic, O’Conners Irish Pub and Wayside Tavern were open until 2:30 a.m. Due to the earlier last call rule, they are losing over four hours of business -- further affecting their employee’s hours, both owners said.

“We’re trying to do whatever we can to maximize everybody’s experience - on a Friday or Saturday night especially," Ramsey said.

She added, “It’s just different. You can feel it in the air. You can see it on people when you start going to them at 9 p.m.”

“We feel strongly about making this change as soon as possible,” Barker said, noting that political gridlock in Washington D.C. scuttled recent attempts at a second federal aid package. In addition, COVID-19 cases have leveled, hospitalizations have declined and the positivity rate for COVID-19 testing has dropped, Barker said.

“It is also worth noting that as professional and college sports are regularly back on TV, other states, including our border states of Kentucky and Pennsylvania, are moving their curfews later and loosening some other restrictions,” he said.

Gov. DeWine has yet to respond to the Ohio Restaurant Association’s request.

Local bar and restaurant owners were mixed on whether a separate effort by the Ohio legislators would be helpful.

On Wednesday, the Ohio Senate approved a bill that would allow residents to order cocktails to-go when they order carryout food from a bar or restaurant after the pandemic ends.

House Bill 669 would allow restaurants and bars with full liquor licenses to sell full-proof cocktails to-go, with a three drink per person limit and a requirement that meals be purchased as well.

Boswell told the News-Sun that she does not think the bill will help increase sales after the pandemic.

“Initially when the restaurants, bars were shut down completely and they were only open for carryout it helped minimally," Boswell said.

She added, “The only reason people were doing carryout cocktails was to support the bar, to support us and the bartenders.”

Ramsey said she was not sure if the bill would help her restaurant but said “it is a nice feature.”

As the pandemic continues, both restaurant and bar owners said they are not selling as many to-go cocktails.

Brittany Waters, the general manager at Speakeasy Ramen said the bill “will help us greatly."

“We already had a to-go beer and wine with our liquor license, but people didn’t really jump on that train. As soon as it was cocktails and liquor it was out the door.”

She added that to-go cocktail sales have since decreased, but people still do it.

The bill will now head to Gov. DeWine for veto or signature.

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