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'It pretty much cripples us': Oregon bars worry about surviving second shutdown

Tom's Bar, Palomar and Rum Club depend almost entirely on alcohol sales. Because they can't sell hard alcohol to-go, they'll struggle through the freeze.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Bars statewide have to close for at least two weeks and in COVID-19 hot spot counties, like Multnomah County, they'll be closed for four weeks.

Without the ability to sell alcohol, many aren't sure how they'll get through this second shutdown. This time, without any financial support from the government, some bar owners say they see the writing on the wall.

"Our goal is to get back to normal. If this is a painful step we have to take, it's just what we have to do," said Tom's Bar & Tom's Restaurant owner Nick Papailiou.

"We agree it's necessary to act to help control COVID but it is a hard pill to swallow because the service industry has been hurt most by the pandemic," Palomar owner Ricky Gomez said.

"My initial reaction was: it's necessary from a health standpoint. But I'm not so sure that Rum Club survives this second shutdown," Rum Club Bar Manager Micah Anderson added. "We were limping by with what we had being open."

Rum Club isn't alone in that. Icons among Portland's food scene, like Reel M Inn, have closed indefinitely.

"Those are just constant reminders of how much we rely on the community," Papailiou added.

Meanwhile, people who work in the service industry are reevaluating their futures here in Portland. Anderson moved here two years ago to be a part of the well-known industry.

"I'm looking at: Am I going to have to move back to Oklahoma or stay here? I don't know," Anderson said.

Since reopening this summer, bars and restaurants invested tons of their own money into making spaces safer for staff and customers and up to par with public health protocols.  They added outdoor seating, purchased tents and heaters for winter, bought air purifiers, bought personal protective equipment and implemented stringent sanitization measures.

RELATED: Portland restaurants winterizing outdoor dining

"Financially it's probably the worst thing you can do to a restaurant or bar," Papailiou said. "All the sudden, we aren’t able to do those things so we kind of throw our hands up and don’t know what do next and we just go from there."

Bars brought a number of employees back to work - some even re-hired all their staff - only to lay them off again last week.

"That was pretty challenging, just having that conversation over again with them," Papailiou said.

Tom's Bar, Palomar and Rum Club depend almost entirely on alcohol sales. Because they can't sell hard alcohol to-go, they'll struggle through the freeze. Places can sell beer and wine, however.

"It pretty much cripples us in not being able to do that," Papailiou said. "Combined with lottery -- lottery is a huge avenue of revenue for us."

Tom's Bar in Southeast Portland will rely on takeout from Tom's Restaurant next door to survive. They're calling on their regulars and the community to support them and other local bars and restaurants by ordering take-out.

Other bars with food menus, including Cuban-inspired Palomar, will offer takeout again to keep the lights on.

"At the current moment, I feel we have a path to survival," Gomez said. "This isn't a short-term four-week period that we're going to get past and things will return to normal. We still have the rest of winter."

Unfortunately others, like Rum Club, can't do takeout because they have a small food menu and it doesn't make business-sense.

Gomez, Anderson and many other bar owners think cocktails to-go would help.

They're also pushing for another commercial eviction moratorium so landlords will hopefully come to the table and re-negotiate leases. Because they worry the federal government won't agree on another economic relief package any time soon, Anderson and Gomez are advocating for state lawmakers to step up. They want Oregon legislators to pass an economic relief package in a special session before the end of the year.

"We were already in dire straits before this shutdown. Now it's tough to say where the future is with no assistance coming down," Gomez added.

Oregon Gov. Brown announced Tuesday she is making $55 million available to businesses impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. It will be given to counties to distribute and prioritizes the hospitality industry and businesses impacted by the freeze.

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