Freeze hits some bars, restaurants where it hurts- liquor sales

MEDFORD, Or.- Businesses across the area have been impacted by COVID-19, but restaurants and stores can still offer curbside pick-up. But even if they have success with their food, a huge part of their revenue is gone.

Liquor sales are one of the greatest sources of income for bars and restaurants. But the restraints of Oregon liquor licenses means they can’t offer drinks alongside your to-go meal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trying mental and financial time for many people.

“That’s kind of been the story of the last year in general, essentially trying to pack your parachute as you’re jumping out of the plane,” said Chris Dennet, owner of Beerworks in downtown Medford. He says its about adjusting to the obstacles of keeping business going amid COVID restrictions.

“Rather than trying to shift gears and tell people we are doing something different, really our messaging at this point is ‘hey, we’re still open’ you can still come in and do the take out stuff,” Dennet explained.

Now, in the middle of another state freeze, he and other bar owners share much of the some frustration.

“The first one there was PPE and there was some other help that felt like it was coming. This one feels a little bit more like just being sort of cut loose from the buoy in the middle of the storm and… good luck!,” Dennet said of the second freeze.

The pandemic has forced businesses to change how they operate. But for bars and restaurants who rely on liquor sales to turn a profit, sometimes the take-out model doesn’t work.

“We’re trying to find ways every way we can, whether that be delivery options to the curbside, fast tracking off-premise sale licenses, we’ve really tried to find ways in which we can do this,” said Bryant Haley with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. He says the agency is working hard to help aid struggling businesses.

But the OLCC is stuck in the middle of state liquor laws as bar owners demand change.

One possible solution to the loss of liquor-driven revenue is to offer to-go cocktails, an option already adopted in a few other states this year.

“Cocktails to go has been one of those issues that has been simmering, to now at a full boil,” he said. But Haley says the issue is a balancing act.

“How does this effect Oregonians as we make these changes? Yes, these are good for bars and restaurants but we’ve also heard from our health partners on how these changes may impact,” Haley explained.

He says the OLCC can only operate by existing laws and it’s up to state officials to make a change.

“Until that statue discusses the concept of allowing the privilege for open containers containing spirits to leave the premise, we simply just don’t have a legal path to do it,” he said.

And there are still many unknowns with the complex issue.

“What does that look like when it does happen? What do open container laws look like when that happens? We have a lot of questions still about it but we want to work with the community and we know that some legislators have some eyes on this,” Haley said. He says the OLCC is working to facilitate conversations between state legislators and business owners to find mutually beneficial solutions.

The Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association announced today that it is filing a lawsuit against Governor Brown to prevent economic devastation for the industry in Oregon.

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