Ohio businesses say they can live with curfew but still need help

Jim Weiker
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio bars and restaurants must close at 10 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. under the state's curfew that starts Thursday.

Ohio businesses and trade associations largely lined up behind Gov. Mike DeWine's 10 p.m. curfew announced on Tuesday, although some are still awaiting details.

The governor said the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew would apply to the general population, including retailers, for three weeks starting Thursday, but spelled out some exemptions including grocery stores, carry-out restaurants and pharmacies.

More: What you can and can't do under Ohio's three-week COVID-19 curfew

For most business associations, the curfew represented a welcome relief from their biggest fear of shutdowns.

Roger Geiger, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Ohio, reflecting many comments, said the "NFIB continues to be adamantly opposed to the shutdown of any business sector in Ohio. We are pleased to hear that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Jon Husted did not go in that direction.”

John Barker, president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association, endorsed the curfew during the governor's Tuesday news conference.

“We believe the curfew is the best choice to slow things down right now, to help everybody understand it’s time to be cautious,” said Barker.

More: COVID-19 puts clamp on hospital visits

Barker also noted that his organization's members, who have been crushed by the pandemic, were relieved they were not shut down altogether, as the governor suggested last week he might do.

“We think it (the curfew) is the right step at the right time,” Barker said. “It’s going to allow Ohioans to do their part without having an immediate and disastrous impact on restaurants by shutting everything down.” 

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce and Ohio Manufacturers’ Association also backed the curfew as an alternative to shutdowns. 

"We're pleased it's not a shutdown. That's a positive," said Andrew Doehrel, president of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

He said the business community is doing what it can to keep people safe on the job. The spread of the virus seems to be more about what workers are doing on their own time, he said.

"The problem is not the workplace. The workplace is fine," he said. "That's because they're doing the right safety protocols."

Doehrel said he understands the governor's concerns about the spread of the virus.

"I don't know what to tell him. ... The only thing I can tell him is not to blame the business community," he said.

Columbus Chamber President and CEO Don DePerro said chamber members are worried about what surviving should the government to order a shutdown.

"By far, it's the No. 1 concern of our membership," he said.

More: Pfizer to seek COVID vaccine approval from FDA 'within days'

DeWine's office did not provide details on how the curfew would be applied to businesses. In his news conference, the governor said "retail that you walk into" would be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. but he specifically exempted grocery stores, pharmacies and carry-out restaurants.

DeWine also said the curfew would not apply to employees traveling to and from work. In addition, non-retail businesses, such as manufacturers, would presumably be exempt from the curfew. 

The curfew would have an immediate impact on bars and restaurants, which have been allowed to remain open until 11 p.m., even though they must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.

While bars lose an hour of potentially lucrative businesses, restaurants contacted by The Dispatch said they understood the need for the curfew.

"Like everyone, we find the increase in COVID cases troubling, and we understand the need for this precautionary measure," said David Miller, the president and chief operating officer of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants in Columbus.

"We will continue do our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and we appreciate the governor’s approach because it allows us to remain operational and protect the jobs of our associates.”

Other restaurant and bar operators noted that their industries have borne the brunt of the coronavirus restrictions, which have sharply curtailed their traffic and capacity. 

"A total shutdown of breweries, bars and restaurants would devastate our industry and economy," said Justin Hemminger, deputy director of the Ohio Craft Beer Association. "We believe the 21-day curfew is a reasonable compromise to help combat the spread of the virus."

Hemminger added, however, that the state should consider additional financial help for bars, restaurants and other businesses suffering through the pandemic.

"Our small businesses – like many others around Ohio – are still experiencing significant negative economic effects and would welcome financial relief in the form of waived or deferred licensing fees and additional stimulus funding," he said.

"If further mitigation measures are deemed necessary, we would ask our elected officials to offer specific plans for relief funding to protect these businesses and their employees."

Frank Profeta, who owns Nasty's Sports Bar in Hilliard, said the curfew changes everything for his business.

"Shifts are now a mess," he said. Bartenders and servers won't want to work afternoon or evening shifts if they know customers have to be gone before 10 p.m., he said.

The bar already lost customers who don't want to stay around for late night games thanks to a ban on alcohol sales after 10 p.m., but the curfew means the bar will see smaller crowds for games that start as early as 7 or 7:30 p.m., Profeta said.

"It just seems like we are being pinpointed as scapegoats," he said of the bar industry. "We may not make it now."

Ron Jordan, the owner of Hen Quarter restaurant in Dublin, echoed Hemminger's comments.

"I would like to hear, in his next press conference, what (DeWine) is going to do for us," he said. 

Dispatch reporters Megan Henry, Mark Williams and Patrick Cooley contributed to this report.