Sedgwick County extends curfew for bars, nightclubs to midnight starting Friday

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 11:09 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 17, 2020 at 11:30 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Beginning Friday, September 18, bars, night clubs, and other businesses licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption can stay open until 12:00 a.m. (midnight) per the new order from Dr. Garold Minns, Local Health Officer.

The order will remain in place until at least midnight, Wednesday, October 21, 2020. Minns accepted the request from the Board of Health following its meeting on Wednesday.

Bars, night clubs, and other businesses licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption are able to operate at 50 percent of the fire code capacity. These businesses may continue carryout and curbside services past midnight.

The order continues Phase 2 of the Ad Astra Plan which allows groups of up to 15 people that must be located at least six feet away from other groups. Events and business occupancy are not capped at 15 people. Individuals in public gatherings are still required to wear a mask.

The county said mask-wearing, social distancing, and good hand hygiene, remain the best ways for the community to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect one another.

When it comes to one hour, what difference does it make? For bars and nightclubs, it can be quite a bit.

More time for sales, especially later in the night is better for the bottom line.

“We get a lot of people just stopping in for a last cold one on the way home or whatever, so having that extra hour there, it really does. It might not seem like a lot but it gives us the ability more of a profit margin,” said Zachary Elam, manager at Weekends Bar and Grill in Haysville.

Right now, Weekends is like many other establishments working to piece back together their business that COVID-19 shattered.

Elam said, “We are trying to push promotions and stuff and that seems to kind of help a little bit but there a lot of people that are definitely scared of COVID and it’s giving them issue coming out.”

Zachary Elam said that’s what makes 60 more minutes so valuable.

“We try to make sure we can accommodate as much as we can for as many people as we can,” said Elam. “As late as we can.”

For Elam, he said being in this business is about people and provide them with a getaway even if it’s down the street.

“People are sick of COVID you know, and that’s what it is. And being able to have people in here and have a place they can come, it’s comforting to them,” he said.

With sports back on TV, the extra hour of business can be the decider for someone if they’re going to watch the game at home or in person.

Elam said. “Some later games that happen on Sundays and Mondays, so being able to be open late and accommodate a crowd that wants to come in and watch a late game.”

Commissioners will host an online meeting with certain bar and nightclub owners Sept. 17.

During the meeting, the bar and night club owners told commissioners right now for them the main goal is to stay open until 2 a.m. rather than returning to full capacity.

Mort’s Martini co-owner Emma Russell said, “We were happy with the 11, we’re happier with midnight. Our big thing is we don’t want to get shut down again.”

“Security, masking, tools and everything. Whatever you need us to do, but that hour is the only way we survive,” said Darren Grieving, owner of Blu Nightclub.

Austin Henry, the manager for Midnight Rodeo and Fever Night Life Manager said, “It’s more about getting us open until 2 a.m. We’re okay with 50 percent capacity as of right now.”

Henry added, “Ten o’clock hour, people start to trick in. There’s hours where I don’t have anybody in the 9 o’clock.”

To get there, county leaders said they need help.

“We really need your help on trying at least, to have some sort of respectable social distancing,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Pete Meitzner.

Sedgwick County Commissioners voted on Wednesday to recommend a curfew extension for bars and nightclubs.

Commissioner Michael O’Donnell made the motion to Dr. Garold Minns, the county’s Local Health Officer, that the 11 p.m. curfew - in the current public health order - be moved to midnight. The vote passed unanimously.

Over the weekend, the Wichita Police Department cited four local businesses for not enforcing the city’s ordinance on masks. Dr. Minns updated the wording on the order to show the county’s guidance is not voluntary. This followed reports of bars and nightclubs staying open past the 11 p.m. curfew outlined in the order.

Bar and nightclub owners who spoke with Eyewitness News Wednesday cite the 11 p.m. curfew as a primary reason for continued struggles. They say one hour would not make much of a difference because customers aren’t going out earlier like they originally hoped when they were cleared to reopen.

The owner of Wichita’s Blu Nightclub spoke to Sedgwick County commissioners at Wednesday’s meeting. A month ago, Blu Nightclub owner Darren Greiving was just happy to unlock his doors. But he soon realized that the curfew significantly reduced his revenue.

“Our revenues are drastically down. I mean, they’re up from zero, but they’re down by like 80 percent,” Greiving said. “...We were hopeful people would come out earlier, but that’s not what happened.”

County commissioners are hopeful the compromise to extend business by an hour can make a difference.

“To come up with a compromise and continue to move in the right direction,” Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell said of the plan to extend the curfew to midnight. “Because to me, getting kids in the classroom and getting businesses open is the way to go. We need to show the business community that we’re going to be good partners, but also be responsible.”

Commissioner Lacey Cruse touched on the importance of moving forward gradually.

“It’s important for us to take small steps to getting back to normal so we can ensure a majority of people in our community are safe,” she said.

Greiving said an extra hour to do business will help a little, but he wants to resume his normal hours of operation and close at 2 a.m.

“It’s absolutely not enough. We have to operate normal business hours,” he said. “There are hours where bars operate, that’s when they make their money.”

After being closed already for months this year, many local bars and nightclubs say they desperately need a return to normal operation. With that, Greiving said he and many other back and club owners in Wichita have no issue taking extra safety precautions, and if enforcing masks and doing extra cleaning is what it takes to generate revenue again, he’ll do it. He just wants the curfew lifted.

That decision will ultimately be up to Dr. Minns.

Commissioners will meet with bar and night club owners Thursday at 3 p.m. The county will livestream the talk on the their Facebook page and YouTube. Eyewitness News will have more updates as they come available.

Copyright 2020 KWCH. All rights reserved.

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