What distinguishes the Great Recession from the Pandemic? The former affected the rich, the latter is affecting the middle class and the poor. Whereas the recession hurt corporations due to complicated financial schemes, the pandemic is decimating the industries that require face-to-face contact. This is especially true for restaurants, exercise facilities, brick and mortar retail stores, theme parks and practically all types of service sector jobs. And who works most of these jobs? Not the white-collar workers who can perform their tasks in seclusion by way of specialized technology, but rather blue collar and working poor people who literally cannot go to work.
Locally, we have seen firsthand how the entertainment industry has been especially gutted. Bars in particular have had an even tougher row to hoe than restaurants. Due to strangeness in the wording of the codes, restaurants with bars can open, but bars and private clubs themselves cannot. Bar owners have gotten very little, if any, support from novel government funding, but many have managed to eke out enough to “survive.” Performers have been able to move many of their re-conceived events online, though it is hard to imagine those options are as lucrative as live shows. However, bartenders do not have any of these options.
Geneva McNeale, a local fundraising organizer (and hunky bartender enthusiast), organized photoshoots for a calendar that features many of the bartenders directly impacted by the pandemic. Sales of “Men of Midwood(ish) 2021” will benefit the staff at the various bars and pubs featured within the calendar. According to McNeale, “All proceeds from the tongue-in-cheek calendar go directly back to those bars and bartenders to help them pay bills and keep afloat until they can open in a safe and less restricted way. The calendar represents a simple way to support the businesses, while still practicing social distancing and COVID protocol.”
Some of the LGBTQ or LGBTQ-friendly businesses that benefit from the calendar’s sales include Petra’s, Snug Harbor and Hattie’s. Speaking to two LGBTQ bartenders qnotes shares some insight on what it has been like for people who have been trying to survive the extreme limitations social distancing requires.
Jack Kirven: Are there smaller crowds and/or fewer customers now than pre-COVID?
Martin Lovelace (Hide-A-Way; Rock Hill, SC) Yes, crowds are much smaller on a regular basis, and it seems to be more of the same people, instead of a rotating clientele.
Bryant Hall (Bar Argon; Charlotte, NC): Yes! The amount of customers we get now is nothing compared to the amount we would have pre-COVID.
JK: Do they tip more now?
ML: Tips are roughly the same percentage, but with sales being lower, that does mean less overall.
JK: Overall, how does your income compare with pre-COVID?
ML: This income is still very much manageable as a weekend job only. If it were my only job, it would not be enough to get by.
BH: My income now compared to pre-COVID has been a drastic change. I am definitely not making as much as I did before all of this.
JK: Do you wear a mask at work?
BH: Most definitely! I highly encourage those who do not to do so! We all need to be considerate of each other’s health and wellbeing.
JK: Do your customers wear a mask?
ML: Customers are required to have a mask on to come into the bar, order a drink, or walk around the bar.
BH: Yes, it is mandatory for customers to have a mask on when they enter the bar and come up to order drinks. If they do not have a mask on, they are not allowed entry. Although once you are outside and at a table, you may remove your mask.
JK: Do they at least try to keep social distance (six feet apart)?
BH: Yes! We have also made sure all the tables are spaced six feet apart.
JK: What are the consequences if they don’t?
ML: Customers are warned, and they usually follow the instructions given. Worst case scenario would be to ask a customer to leave.
JK: Are you able to connect with your customers like before COVID?
ML: Not as much, as I keep my distance more. It can’t be seen when I’m smiling, and I don’t hug customers like I did pre-COVID.
BH: Yes and no. I wish I could give a lot of our regulars hugs and talk to them without a mask. It has been very hard and upsetting.
JK: How do you see the near future for bars and clubs?
ML: I see there being a rush once restrictions are lessened, but overall I see a generation of younger customers that have learned to party at home for less money. This might creating a potential for a customer decline in the future.
BH: To be honest, I’m not 100 percent sure. I hope that things will clear up and we can all get back to the way things were, but I feel as if nothing will ever be normal or the same again. Also, from the looks of it, COVID is still gonna be around in the spring.
JK: How about the long-term future of bars and clubs?
ML: Bars and clubs are going to have to adjust what they offer to make sure that they are staying up to date with what the current clientele want. It’s the only way to stay relevant. Although realistically, more bars are going to have to offer something in addition to just alcohol to attract customers.
BH: If things don’t change soon I’m afraid more bars and clubs will begin to close down. I just hope we won’t lose any gay bars and clubs in Charlotte.
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