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‘We’re back:’ Orlando bar owner prepares to reopen amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Beacham setting up pods to keep guests socially distant

ORLANDO, Fla. – Bar owners across Central Florida are getting ready to reopen after the state announced bars are allowed to reopen starting on Monday.

Bars originally closed in March with a brief reopening in June, but the state forced them to shut their doors again due to a spike in coroanvirus cases later that month.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation announced Thursday bars are allowed to reopen on Monday at 50% capacity.

“Everyone in the business and has gotten high spirits for the first time in a long time,” said bar owner Aaron Dudek. “And we’ve all been walking to each other’s baes and talking and we’re excited.”

Dudek owns a few bars in Orlando, including Burtons in Thornton Park. He said prior to Monday’s reopening, he’s had to serve food at his bars so his bars could be open. He’s opening Woods Bar on Orange Avenue this Wednesday, but says things will be tough.

“It’s going to be hard for a lot of us,” he said. “50 percent occupancy doesn’t really pay many bills and our labor cost are going up because we have to over staff to make sure people follow the rules.”

Roger Wall, who owns Embassy Irish Bar in downtown Orlando, said any profit made this year is going to be gone.

“It’s going to be very difficult at 50% to make yourself a living or earnings,” he said.

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At The Beacham in downtown Orlando, tables now are set up inside. Customers are required to be at their table to be served. This coming as Orange County will have strike teams out and about at bars to make sure owners and customers are complying with capacity.

“We hope everyone will take this re-opening seriously and act responsibly in accordance with the CDC guidelines,” said Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.

On Friday, Demings said the Orange County Coronavirus Strike Team would begin working weekends this weekend to ensure businesses are following those guidelines.

He said next week, they will help DBPR keep on eye on whether bars were following suit.

“If it’s a law enforcement issue, will refer it to Alcohol Beverage Commission or the local sheriffs or law-enforcement authorities,” he said.

Staff at The Beacham spent Friday preparing for next week’s reopening.

John SanFelippo co-owns The Beacham and several other venues in downtown Orlando.

“Getting this energy back in downtown Orlando is going to be extremely important,” SanFelippo said.

New safety measures are being put in place at The Beacham in downtown Orlando as bars prepare to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
New safety measures are being put in place at The Beacham in downtown Orlando as bars prepare to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. (WKMG)

He said during the pandemic and closures, he laid off 250 employees. He has since hired many back and said he can’t wait for nightlife to return.

“People want to socialize and we have to socialize in a different way that we used to before,” he said.

SanFelippo said they are taking safety precautions when they reopen. They’re requiring people to wear masks and get their temperature checked.

They’re also limiting capacity inside the venue. SanFelippo said it can hold around 1,200 people, but they’re capping it at 250.

Staff are also setting up pods around the venue. People are required to stay in their pods and sit at tables with their group instead of roaming around the club.

SanFelippo said the community will need to do their part so bars can stay open.

“We need the community when they come in to respect the social distancing guidelines we create so we don’t find ourselves in the position that we found ourselves in June and that was being open for two weeks and getting shut down again,” he said.

SanFelippo said The Beacham is reopening on Friday.

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