State regulator announces meetings to help form new reopening plans for bars

Bars remain closed since June 26 amid compliance complaints

Florida's top business regulator is working on a plan to reopen bars again safely.

Florida’s bars remain closed, but the state’s top business regulator hinted that they could reopen after revamping guidelines.

In a tweet, Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears said:

“Next week starting Friday, I’m going to set meetings throughout Florida with breweries and bars to discuss ideas on how to reopen. We will come up with a Safe, Smart and Step-by-step plan based on input, science and relative facts on how to reopen as soon as possible.

DeSantis initially stopped bars and nightclubs from serving alcohol for on-site consumption as part of an emergency order on March 20 that was aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

The order was lifted on June 5 in all but South Florida, which has been hit hardest by the pandemic. But while bars were allowed to start serving drinks again, the state limited indoor customer occupancy to 50% and allowed only table service.

Beshears was described by DeSantis on June 23 as the “Grim Reaper” for bars and restaurants that violated the state’s social distancing and capacity guidelines.

The forced closures forced one bar owner to rethink his business model.

John SanFelippo, owner of the Beacham and other establishments in downtown Orlando, told News 6 he is reopening The Social.

He said he has filed the appropriate paperwork to reopen the location as a restaurant.

“It’s extremely frustrating for us,” SanFelippo said.

SanFelippo told News 6 his 200 employees remain furloughed during this shutdown, and his first attempt at reopening cost his business quite a lot of money.

"For us, we had to go out and in order to adhere to the guidelines to reopen, we had to spend tens of thousand of dollars on furniture, tables, bar stools, Plexiglas, hand sanitizer masks, all the PPE stuff," he said.

Several bar owners have filed lawsuits against the state over a June 26 order that reimposed a prohibition on serving drinks for on-site consumption. The state issued the order because non-compliance with coronavirus safety guidelines was considered too widespread to enforce in the bar industry.

The main complaint by bar owners has been the order unfairly discriminates against them, as establishments that serve food in conjunction with alcohol are able to remain open.

Since the order was reimposed, department inspectors have conducted more than 8,000 on-site reviews and issued 160 non-compliance notices. Five businesses have had their alcoholic beverage licenses suspended.

About the Author:

It has been an absolute pleasure for Clay LePard living and working in Orlando since he joined News 6 in July 2017. Previously, Clay worked at WNEP TV in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he brought viewers along to witness everything from unprecedented access to the Tobyhanna Army Depot to an interview with convicted double-murderer Hugo Selenski.