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At St. Pete roundtable, DeSantis holds out hope of financial help for breweries, bars

Margie Manning

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Florida Gov. Ron Santis at a roundtable with local brewery owners.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said any future Covid-19 financial relief should go to businesses that had to shut down because of government orders, including bars and breweries.

“We may get a Phase 4 where states are getting some more assistance. I think if that does happen, we should look to see economic support needed for specific businesses actually affected by government policy,” DeSantis said, speaking to a half-dozen local bar and brewery owners gathered for a roundtable in St. Petersburg Thursday.

The bar owners told DeSantis about the economic hardship imposed by statewide orders that they close as part of efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19. DeSantis was sympathetic to their plight, saying he understood they had closed through no fault of their own, and that bars have had it rougher than nearly any other business in the state.

The governor did not say when bars might reopen but he said he has told Halsey Beshears, secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, that he wants “every business in Florida operating.”

The roundtable was hosted at Webb’s City Cellar by Green Bench Brewery. Green Bench was shut down for 124 days beginning in mid-March, and only reopened a couple of weeks ago after getting a food license so it could operate as a restaurant, said Nathan Stonecipher, co-owner.

“We built this brewery to connect with our community, to add something different to our community, to allow people a place to get together with family and friends. That’s something we want to get back here. We think we can do it in a safe way,” Stonecipher said.

Local brewery owners at a roundtable with Gov. Ron DeSantis

Safety was stressed by several of the brewery owners, including LJ Govoni, president of Big Storm Brewing.

“Everyone in hospitality understands the rules and regulations they have to follow, but uniquely for brewers. Most of our day is spent cleaning and sanitizing,” Govoni said.

The Galley and Mary Margaret’s Old Irish Tavern have taken steps to instill guest confidence, such as installing air scrubbers to purify the air and eliminate the risk of the virus being transmitted in the air.

“It’s been a trying time but those that have been agile and able to operate with dexterity have been fortunate. We just want to create guest confidence and know that it’s still OK to have a good time,” said Pete Boland, co-owner and proprietor.

Customers rather than government should determine when they feel safe returning to bars and breweries, both Boland and Govoni said, and Mike Harting, CEO of 3 Daughters Brewing, agreed.

“We started off down 70 percent, 75 percent, in the middle of all of this and we’re down less than half now. That confidence is definitely coming back from the consumer and I don’t see that abating. I see that continuing. The traffic we’ve gotten in the past seven days is better than we’ve seen in the past three months,” Harting said.

Beach communities were hit particularly hard, said Matthew Dahm, CEO and co-owner of Mastry’s Brewing Co. in St. Pete Beach and incoming chairman of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce. But he also is seeing some customers coming back.

“We are seeing more out-of-towners … many of them coming from states that have tighter regulations,” Dahm said.

The breweries and bars are asking to be able to make their own decisions about opening, said Khris Johnson, co-owner of Green Bench Brewing.

“We know we can provide a safe environment for our customers. We’re citizens of this community as well, and the only thing we want to do is see it thrive,” Johnson said.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Dan Stone

    September 3, 2020at3:17 pm

    Allow our local breweries to reopen. C’mon Governor, help the breweries out.

  2. Avatar

    Karl Keister

    September 3, 2020at3:24 pm

    NO MENTION of the role, if any, that large political contributions by consortiums, such as INBEV, have had on policies keeping Craft Breweries either shut down, or, having to jump through more, and, expensive ‘hoops’ to stay in operation!

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