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Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Department of Health announced new restrictions Sunday afternoon that would significantly alter business operations. Restaurants couldn’t seat parties of more than six people, had to do away with bar seating, and separate tables by at least six feet. Nightclubs had to cease operating. The new rules didn’t automatically shut down bars, but they weren’t compatible with the bar business.
At the same time, more of the community seemed to latch onto the importance of social distancing to flatten the curve of the global coronavirus pandemic. Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, New York City, and five counties in Pennsylvania shut down bars and restaurants for on-premise consumption while still allowing take-out and delivery.
There was also the social pressure of Washingtonians shaming one another on social media for going out and putting others at risk, especially after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its recommendation that people cancel in-person activities that draw 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. A petition started yesterday asking Bowser to close down bars and restaurants is inching towards its 2,000 person goal.
Suddenly, hospitality industry workers and operators began using hashtags such as #shutusdown and #pullthetrigger. Tail Up Goat and Reveler’s Hour co-owner Jill Tyler kicked things off on Instagram. “We need strong governmental action to survive this pandemic with our businesses intact,” she posted. “That is why we are urging the mayor to #shutusdown. Doing so properly acknowledges the scale of the current crisis and begins to make available the kind of resources our employees and businesses will require to endure this financial storm.”
Tail Up Goat, Reveler’s Hour, Maxwell Park, Queen’s English, Pom Pom, and others posted the black and white tile below on social media.
The idea is that if businesses are mandated to close, they might have a better chance at getting emergency financial assistance. “They keep stopping short of mandated closures because of the responsibility that goes with it—rent abatement and unemployment,” says Liz Cox, a manager at Red Bear Brewing Company in NoMa. “Severely reducing capacity without offering those services is keeping the industry in the worst kind of limbo—less sales and even less assistance.”
Voluntary closures began trickling in Sunday, following hospitality industry heavy hitters who announced they were shutting things down earlier in the day, including José Andrés. Then around 5 p.m. it was like someone turned on the faucet. Restaurant closures, which City Paper has been tracking here, include large restaurants such as Neighborhood Restaurant Group (delivery and take-out available), Michelin-starred restaurants like Sushi Taro, fast-casual restaurants like sweetgreen (pick-up and delivery available through an app), and Little Sesame.
Now restaurant and bar owners await further instructions while they also begin considering how to ask for the help they need from the local and federal government, landlords, banks, and insurance companies. Tomorrow’s D.C. Council meeting will be critical as councilmembers will take up emergency legislation designed to help unemployed workers and small businesses.