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‘We’re just bleeding out’: Vancouver pub blames closure on new COVID-19 liquor rules

B.C. pubs closing after health order cuts off liquor sales early
A Vancouver pub says it's been forced to shut down after the latest provincial health order closed liquor sales at 10 p.m. and as Kristen Robinson reports, the industry association fear hundreds more establishments will be lost if the B.C. government doesn't relax the rules to strike a balance.

Instead of getting ready for a busy night, Matt Thompson spent Saturday clearing out the Metropole Community Pub and preparing to meet with about a dozen staff he was forced to lay off after he informed his bosses he had to shut down the establishment on the edge of Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood.

“I had to look them straight in the eye and tell them we’ve got to close the doors,” the pub’s general manager said.

With business already down 50 per cent due to COVID-19 and physical distancing protocols, Thompson said the Met was one calamity away from closing when on Sept. 8, Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered all bars, pubs, and restaurants to cease liquor sales by 10 p.m. and close by 11 p.m. unless full meal service is still being provided.

Read more: Nightclubs, banquet halls warn they cannot survive another COVID-19 shutdown

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Before its sudden demise, the Metropole general manager said nearly 60 per cent of the pub’s business occurred between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“If you cut our sales by half with these original restrictions, then again cut that by more than half, we’re just bleeding out,” Thompson told Global News.

With a more than $30,000 a month lease, Thompson said the Metropole could no longer afford to pay its staff or order product.

“There’s no point. We’ll get into a hole that we can’t get out of,” he said.

The Met is not alone. Jeff Guignard, executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of B.C. said almost half of overall pub sales in downtown Vancouver happen after 10 p.m. and the fear is hundreds of businesses will have to close.

Dr. Bonnie Henry orders bars, nightclubs and banquet halls to shut down again
Dr. Bonnie Henry orders bars, nightclubs and banquet halls to shut down again

“Instead of losing half the industry, we could end up losing 60 per cent of it,” said Guignard.

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The organization, which said 90 per cent of its members have been diligently following the most stringent public health orders ever issued, has written the province suggesting a compromise to offset the economic consequences.

“It makes no sense to punish 100 per cent of the industry if like five per cent of it is the problem,” said Guignard.

Read more: ‘Kicked when we’re down’: New COVID-19 restrictions hit already struggling B.C. restaurants

In a Sept. 10 letter to the B.C. provincial health officer, Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Attorney General David Eby, and Jobs Minister Michelle Mungall, Guignard’s group and 10 other industry organizations called for the 10 p.m. liquor cutoff to be extended to midnight, supported by greater enforcement (including closures) of non-compliant venues.

“To get those last couple of hours in, that’ll make the difference between bankruptcy and not for a lot of folks,” Guignard told Global News.

The new liquor rules were implemented as COVID-19 cases rose in B.C., and after a summer of scenes of crowded nightclubs and partying on Vancouver’s Granville strip spread on social media.

Restaurants sound alarm over new government restrictions on alcohol sales
Restaurants sound alarm over new government restrictions on alcohol sales

Dr. Henry said she was hopeful cases associated to nightclubs and banquet halls would decrease but when they didn’t, she ordered those establishments to close again.

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In Kamloops, the Blue Grotto nightclub reopened Sept. 4 with thousands of dollars worth of pandemic safety measures in place including plexiglass dividers between booths — only to be shut down again after two nights of business.

“We’re suffering in the interior for what’s going on in the Lower Mainland in a much larger market,” said owner David Johnston.

Read more: Nightclubs, banquet halls in B.C. ordered closed again as COVID-19 cases rise

Guignard said closing responsible venues won’t end problematic alcohol consumption or behaviour, and will simply push it underground where there are no rules or restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

“That’s not going to have the desired impact of reducing case loads – which is what we all want,” he said.

For now, last call is over at the Met and Thompson is putting together a resume for the first time in 15 years. Even if the province amended the latest public health order to allow liquor sales until midnight, he’s not sure the pub could survive.

“It’s not my money to be gambling with,” said Thompson.