Iowa bar closures will cost ‘thousands of jobs,’ says restaurant lobbying group

A Dallas County bar is seeking class action status for a lawsuit challenging the governor's COVID-19 mitigation restrictions. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Gov. Kim Reynolds latest order requiring bars in Iowa to close again will result in “businesses going under,” said Jessica Dunker, president of the Iowa Restaurant Association.

“It’s short-sighted and it’s going to cost hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs in them,” Dunker said.

Reynolds ordered bars, taverns, wineries, breweries, distilleries and night clubs to close in six Iowa counties as of Thursday evening, citing “a notable increase in virus activity” linked to young adults who have been socializing without social distancing.

Bars in Black Hawk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Story counties will have to close starting at 5 p.m. Thursday until Sept. 20. Restaurants in those counties may remain open but will have to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.

Reynolds’ emergency proclamation provides that businesses required to close can still sell carry-out food and alcoholic beverages and may still service food and alcohol at private gatherings such as wedding receptions.

She said 23% of all new positive cases statewide were among young adults ages 19 through 24.

But that doesn’t mean the state should institute countywide bar closures, Dunker said.

Instead, the Department of Inspections and Appeals and the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division should have used their enforcement powers to penalize restaurants and bars that were not obeying mitigation rules, such as social distancing tables.

The ABD and the DIA have the ability to fine businesses $1,000 for disobeying Reynolds’ social distancing rules and suspending licenses for more severe cases.

“These blanket county-by-county solutions are disappointing because we felt like the state had every regulatory tool and authority in place to take care of the problems,” Dunker said.

Joe McConville, co-owner of Gusto Pizza, Juniper Moon and El Guapo’s Tequila and Taco, said his businesses have been following Reynolds’ social distancing requirements. While he’s able to sell food at all of his businesses and keep the doors open, he said there’s money lost by ending alcohol sales at 10 p.m.

By staying open until 11 p.m. or midnight, his businesses may be able to generate an extra $400, he said.

“It’s unfortunate many businesses like us are being forced with the same closures because other people couldn’t behave or follow the rules,” McConville said.

Dunker said she hopes the states can use CARES Act funds to help the hospitality industry and bars that won’t be able to reopen until Sept. 20.

“It’s really, really difficult,” Dunker said. “If were trying to legislate behavior by proclamation, then temporarily raise the drinking age.”