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Tough choices: Some Cape bars choose to temporarily close

By Staff | Jul 2, 2020

With COVID-19 cases in Florida and Lee County climbing, coupled with some close-to-home tragedies, many establishments in Cape Coral are making the tough decision to temporarily close until conditions become safer for patrons and staff alike.

Owners of local bars and restaurants have said the virus affecting loved ones and friends in recent weeks — something they hadn’t seen before — has made them want to shut down to protect their patrons, staff and the city as a whole.

The owner of BackStreets Sports Bar, Shelly Walton, said seeing cases rise in the city and impact those she and her staff knew directly, led to BackStreets announcing its temporary closure.

“The decision came because almost overnight, I personally and my staff personally didn’t know anyone that had (coronavirus). And then overnight, people were popping up everywhere,” she said. “I thought, ‘we can’t be part of this.’ We have to be part of the fix, not part of the problem.”

Walton said BackStreets has been taking every precaution to keep patrons safe while they were open by socially distancing tables and even tweaking their traditional bar seating so that tables surrounded the area.

Despite their diligent practices, Walton still felt the need to close their doors, for now.

“But, the amount of cases that came about and the stress level it was putting on the staff, it just wasn’t worth the money to stay open,” she said. “We didn’t want to be ‘that place.’ We did not want to be the place that people could become sick at – bottom line. Didn’t want to do it.”

When it comes to reopening once again and what things would have to look like, Walton said, “no idea.” She contemplated taking two weeks to have her and all her staff quarantine, but felt that wasn’t enough of a measure to take.

“Everybody predicted this was going to happen; that we were going to get our spike. We got our spike,” she said. “The only thing I can do is close down and wait and see what happens.”

BackStreets was able to get a PPP (paycheck protection program) loan through the Small Business Administration months ago covering eight weeks of payroll. That is now gone. Walton said she has reached out to the SBA in regards to additional assistance but has not heard back.

At the end of the day, keeping her employees and their families safe is at the forefront of this decision. She said she heard their concerns and could visibly see the stress taking them over when it came to the virus

“That’s the main goal,” Walton said of protecting her staff and the public. “I don’t want any of my staff to test positive, and the only way to ensure that nobody tests positive is to close it down.”

When it came to closing down, Walton said she wishes there was better direction from the Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“It’s weird because I felt like I was making a government decision,” she said. “I wish our governor would have made the decision for us. But, he didn’t.”

She said originally when the state began to reopen she didn’t believe it was too soon because not many cases were affecting Cape Coral. Once cases began to rise and locals and friends began to fall ill, that’s when things changed.

“When I see, in a matter of 24-hours, my staff becoming stressed, nervous and scared; it’s time to shut it down,” Walton said.

Though these are some turbulent and unsure times, Walton said BackStreets will be back.

“We’ll be back, I just don’t know when,” she said. “We’re OK. We’ll be able to pay our bills until it’s time to reopen. We just want to be back when we can be back and operate how we operate.”

Another popular Cape Coral location that has decided to temporarily close due to virus concerns is The Dek.

Owner Betty Davis said a major reason they decided to close was after hearing of a local band called The Collaboration Band that saw a member pass away due to the virus and saw two other members test positive. .

“We haven’t been having bands but, our staff was concerned,” Davis said. “(This band) played at other bars. We all have the same customers; it was all a matter of time. We decided it wasn’t worth it. It spreads to quickly and people don’t know they’re carrying it. It was very close to home.”

Davis said she’s not really sure when The Dek would be poised to reopen. Many of her staff is getting tested even though they are not displaying symptoms. She said many of her staff members are friendly with other employees at other local establishments. Davis said she would wait until her staff feels comfortable enough to return to work to reopen.

“I’m not going to put my staff in an uncomfortable position where I know if I’m open, they’re going to come to work because they need the shift,” Davis said. “They’ve been speaking to me every day more and more, and that’s why we all came together and decided the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.

“Even when we’re open so many people are scared. Business has gone down in the last few weeks. It’s just a lot of extra on top of not being very profitable and the girls not making very much money to be worth it.”

Davis is also frustrated with the direction from the state when it comes what needs have to be met, who can open and when and what businesses need to do if they do have an employee or patron that tests positive.

“I feel like it’s not very clear,” Davis said. “It’s very confusing.”

The Dek, despite closing down, gave back to those on the front lines of the virus Thursday. In fear of food going bad during the shutdown, The Dek cooked up wings and subs that they delivered to Cape Coral Hospital.

“We did it on a whim,” Davis said. “Not knowing the time frame, I didn’t want to freeze (wings) and have them sitting there. We did Philly subs, Italian subs and wings. It’s better than throwing them away.”

On June 29, Monkey Bar Steak & Seafood in Cape Coral announced its temporary closure “due to a possible exposure to COVID-19.”

“We are taking measures to ensure the safety of our employees and customers. We have a professional company coming to clean and sanitize,” they said via Facebook on June 29.

They were planning on reopening July 2, but decided to push it to July 6.

“We have decided to postpone our opening until July 6, 2020 as we wait on the results of our employees COVID tests,” read their Facebook page. “We have had the restaurant disinfected and sanitized. In addition to social distancing, we will continue to enforce our employees to wear mask and take their temperatures as they arrive to work.”

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj