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In America’s Great Shutdown, You’ll Need to Pour Your Own Drink

Stock MarketsMar 15, 2020 05:42PM ET
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In America’s Great Shutdown, You’ll Need to Pour Your Own Drink

(Bloomberg) -- It’s already being dubbed the Great Shutdown.

From Colorado’s ski resorts to New York’s Momofuku restaurants and the Grand Canyon National Park’s daily informational film showings, America is closing down at an unprecedented speed to curb the deadly coronavirus.

Across the U.S., hundreds of business owners and local governments have canceled events and shuttered venues, with bars, restaurants and retailers now following the lead of stadiums, colleges and Broadway theaters. The closures echo the sweeping restrictions on crowded venues and gatherings imposed by Italy, Spain and France -- dramatic measures for nations known for their out-and-about lifestyles. And it’s not just a big-city phenomenon.

“We made the decision to shut it down for public safety, knowing that our governor hadn’t imposed any restrictions yet, but we felt it was the right thing to do,” said Mark Altemeier, who along with wife Amy owns the Monkey Bar & Grille in the Cincinnati suburb of Mainesville, Ohio. The couple broke the news to patrons on March 13.

The pub, set along the Little Miami River and named for an infamous cigarette-smoking chimp called Sam who entertained bar-dwellers there decades ago, can pack in 400 to 500 people on weekends. Amy Altemeier said Sunday she had expected as many as 2,000 revelers to filter through for this week’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

Governor Mike DeWine said later that he would order all bars and restaurants in Ohio to close starting at 9 p.m., adding that venues can stay open for carry-out and delivery. “What we can’t have is people congregating and seated,” he wrote on Twitter. In Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker imposed a similar order, from March 16 to March 30.

Health experts for weeks have pushed the idea that social isolation -- whether voluntary or mandatory -- is the only way to come to grips with the highly contagious virus that’s infected more than 160,000 people worldwide and led to 6,000 deaths, including more than 60 in the U.S. While only a small share of those infected end up needing hospital care, the speed and magnitude of the virus’s spread can overwhelm hospitals, as happened in China and Italy.

While the Monkey Bar might have been a couple of days ahead of Ohio’s governor in ringing its temporary last call, it’s clear that tightly packed drinking establishments are in the crosshairs of public health officials. Chicago had already ordered venues that serve alcohol to operate at half their maximum capacity. In the nation’s capital, officials put an end to bar seating, ordered tables to be pushed 6 feet apart, and shut down nightclubs.

“I would like to see a dramatic diminution of the personal interaction that we see in restaurants and bars,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Sunday. “Whatever it takes to do that, that’s what I’d like to see.”

Sorry, We’re Closed

Few types of venue are being spared -- including outdoor spaces. In Miami, which at this time of year is filled with college students on spring break, some beaches were closing early and concerts were suspended.

In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis ordered the shutdown of all ski areas for a week, shortly after Vail Resorts Inc. suspended operations of its North American mountain resorts and retail stores through March 22. In Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park remains open but South Rim restaurants were far emptier than usual, and ranger programs and showings of the park film were canceled.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pointedly stopped short on Sunday of ordering closed schools or private businesses to close, even as he urged businesses to voluntarily shutter or have people work from home.

“We can only maintain public health by STAYING APART,” Cuomo tweeted on Sunday. “The decision each of makes now will impact us all tomorrow. STAY HOME.”

Many businesses are heeding such calls. Urban Outfitters Inc (NASDAQ:URBN). said Saturday it would close all stores until at least March 28. On Sunday, Abercrombie & Fitch followed, but said its stores in the Asia-Pacific region will remain open. On Monday, Nike Inc (NYSE:NKE). will close all its shops in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand through March 27.

Open, for Now

While large national or global businesses may have the resources to temporarily close stores, some small businesses are trying novel approaches to stay afloat.

Modo Yoga, with 70 studios North America, Europe and Australia, has begun streaming free classes over Instagram, encouraging users to support them by chipping in a few dollars via Venmo or PayPal.

“We’re hanging on for dear life,” said Steve Vernetti, owner of Vernetti’s, a self-financed mom-and-pop Italian restaurant on Larchmont Boulevard in Los Angeles that counts Mayor Eric Garcetti among its regulars. “Next week I’m going to write a letter to my landlord begging him to reduce the rent. We have exorbitant costs. Business is down 75%.”

And creative workarounds aren’t just happening in the secular world: In Sugar Land, Texas, The Bridge church closed its doors, asking worshippers to participate in services online through March 29. Sugar Land is in Fort Bend County, which has nine confirmed or presumed cases of coronavirus.

Some businesses that chose to stay open are actually riding a bit of a wave. Richard Falco, a host and server at pizzeria Johnny Pepperoni in Hoboken, New Jersey, said the restaurant had more pick-up and delivery orders than typical on March 14. And the Emerald Fields cannabis dispensary in Glendale, Colorado, is holding tight, armed with sanitizer to handle increased traffic. Customers are a little panicky, said one employee.

For now, the shutdowns in the U.S. are less severe than in parts of Europe. Italy began a nationwide lockdown Monday. This weekend, Spanish authorities banned citizens from leaving their homes except for work or to buy essential supplies or medicines. And the French government shut down all restaurants, cafes, cinemas and nonessential retail shops.

Yet even Americans who shy away from cable news, Twitter or newspapers likely won’t be able to escape the myriad encouragements to avoid their fellow humans.

“Hands clean 2 beat Covid-19,” read an electronic message board next to State Highway 288 in Houston. A short while later, there was another: “Give xtra space with each other and on the road.”

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In America’s Great Shutdown, You’ll Need to Pour Your Own Drink

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