To Gus Katsaros, there is no question about it. Yorgos in downtown Lancaster is going to lose money Wednesday due to new COVID-19 restrictions on alcohol sales on the day before Thanksgiving — typically one of the biggest bar-going nights of the year.
“I couldn’t even calculate it,” said Katsaros, a manager at Yorgos, thinking about the revenue lost this year due to pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions.
A Monday announcement from state officials has made that even worse by prohibiting Wednesday night sales, he said, echoing concerns voiced by a number of local bar owners and managers.
And it’s led management overseeing at least one bar to move the celebration to Tuesday.
At a news conference held by Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine, it was announced that sales of alcohol for on-site consumption at bars and restaurants must end at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Sales can resume at 8 a.m. Thursday, officials said.
It’s a safety measure intended to prevent further spread of the virus at potentially crowded drinking spaces ahead of the holiday, Wolf said.
“We cannot let our health care systems crack under the strain of COVID-19,” Wolf said.
And Katsaros was at least somewhat sympathetic, calling the unofficial drinking holiday “amateur night,” explaining his bar would typically be full of drinking college students.
“I can see they are doing it to keep everyone safe,” Katsaros said, before admitting that it sometimes feels like “Wolf is targeting restaurants.”
In the early days of the pandemic, bars were considered nonessential, closed altogether. And even now they are open only with limited customer capacity and hours, Katsaros said.
All of that has meant less money passing through the cash register, he said. And Katsaros pointed out that the earlier shutdown also meant the bar was closed for St. Patrick’s Day, which he described as the busiest of the year.
“St. Patrick’s Day pays for the whole year,” he said, criticizing Wolf for his Monday announcement, which now all but eliminated Wednesday night revenue, too. “We don’t understand why Gov. Wolf is coming at small businesses.”
Katsaros said he’s recently visited some large retailers, and he believes the holiday shopping crowds are more likely to spread the virus than his limited bar customers.
Moving big plans
Jay Wilson, a manager at the Manor Township bar Tobias S. Frogg, told similar tales of loss and uncertainty that he said have persisted since the first shutdowns in March.
“We obviously took a hit,” he said. “But we’ve been able to figure it out.”
Employees were looking forward to Wednesday’s potential windfall, Wilson said.
They even booked entertainment, planning to host a special event, he said, explaining Monday’s announcement means all of that has been undone.
But Wilson admitted there is still hope that some of that business can be made up for on Tuesday and Friday nights.
In fact, a Monday post on the Tobias S. Frogg Facebook page advertises a Tuesday event, boasting “We are moving the turkey turn-up to tomorrow.”
On Monday, Wilson said he was too busy to explain that event. However, he earlier made it clear that bar employees intend to follow virus-related rules.
Joe Devoy, owner of Tellus360 in Lancaster, wondered why the new restriction couldn’t have been announced earlier to give barkeeps time to plan for the money lost.
Wednesday was less than two days away by the time of Monday’s announcement, he said.
The downtown bar owner said it’s not only his bottom line that suffers. His tip-earning servers will lose out, too.
“This weekend is usually pretty good for us. So everybody is affected,” he said. “The people working for us have been amazing for sticking with us.”
Like a number of other bar owners, Devoy admitted that he was able to secure government coronavirus relief funding, but it was enough only to cover a fraction of the downturn, he said.
And the virus-related downturn has been especially rough since the weather turned cold, according to Nate Ross, a manager at Lancaster Dispensing Co.
“We had ten tables outside this summer, and we did well with that,” he said of the downtown business, adding most customers don’t want to sit outside on a cold, late fall day.
And already, earlier virus-related restrictions have decreased indoor seating available to paying customers, he said. That loss of revenue has translated to lost jobs, Ross said.
“It’s just not busy enough to pay everyone,” Ross said.
Shawn Kelly, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, said state Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores will not be impacted by the new restriction. They will remain open for their normally scheduled hours Wednesday before closing Thursday for the holiday.