Burlington bars ordered to start closing earlier

Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 6:35 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Bars in Burlington will be closing early Thursday night. That’s because of new restrictions the City Council passed aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Here's what's in the rules:

Our Cat Viglienzoni reports on how this will affect bars and their employees.

"It's kind of a shock. I think no one really saw it coming," said Sean McKenzie, the beverage director at The Archives in Burlington.

The pinball machines and arcade games are shut down. Their bar was already at half capacity and closing an hour early due to COVID-19 restrictions. Now, McKenzie says they're being asked to lose two of their busiest hours of the night.

"Right now, we are honestly having conversations about if it's even viable to do this," he said.

That's because he says half their business is done after 11 p.m.-- the city's new closing time effective Thursday.

The rationale of closing the bars early is to keep college students from gathering and potentially spreading the virus.

McKenzie says while college students do go to The Archives, their main clientele tends to be 25-35.

"Most of the college students who can drink are already in town because they live off campus. So, they've been going out to bars all summer," McKenzie said.

"We are following a harm reduction model of limiting the hours that these settings are open," said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington.

At an emergency City Council meeting Thursday, Weinberger said he'd rather take more aggressive measures now than regret not doing enough later.

"No one has the perfect answers for the way through this," the mayor said.

City councilors did not debate much.

"In my mind, we are essentially trading one risk for another," said Brian Pine, P-Burlington City Council.

"I also agree with the urgency to do something about this this weekend," said Sarah Carpenter, D-Burlington City Council.

"It's concerning that this community will be increasing in size soon," said Ali Dieng, I-Burlington City Council.

“I think the bars are a lot easier to regulate and a lot safer and more regulated environment versus house parties,” said Jack Hanson, P-Burlington City Council.

But despite some differing opinions, after making a few changes, the final resolution passed unanimously.

McKenzie calls that disappointing. He thinks the restrictions will just push more students into large gatherings in backyards or basements, places that aren't easy to regulate.

“This seems like it was more of a symbolic gesture than anything,” McKenzie said.

Again, the City Council will revisit the restrictions on Sept. 14. The Archives is hopeful the rules will not be extended because the longer it stretches on, the more serious their discussions about staying open at all will be.

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