Twelve Mon County bars filed suit against the governor and others last week. Here’s what you should know about that.
It’s hard being a bar owner in Mon County these days, and 12 bar owners are so fed up with the inconsistencies coming from the city and state that they filed suit last week in federal court.
Ray Glymph is one of them. He’s owned and operated 4th & Goal on Walnut Street and Scorers in Westover for 10 years. He’s heard three bars in recent weeks announce imminent, permanent closure, and he says the local bar and restaurant industry is at a tipping point. He’s frustrated that there are no clear-cut rules laid out for businesses to follow to get back in business.
“It is very tough, and we’re not getting much help,” Glymph says. “If we can follow the rules, we deserve an opportunity to make a living. If you see a Walmart that has people outside waiting and not wearing masks, you’re not going to close all the Walmarts.”
Bars in Mon County were closed by the state in July after an outbreak that was traced at least in part to downtown bar-going, and West Virginia University requested that they stay closed until the fall semester got underway. Governor Jim Justice allowed bars to reopen August 31, only to shut them down again just two days later—this time indefinitely—following a now-infamous photo taken of a crowd of maskless students packed like sardines, waiting for Fat Daddy’s Bar and Grill to open. Glymph says the city could have intervened by enforcing its mask ordinance and by implementing the three-strikes policy on businesses. But the city’s inaction left the state no choice but to come in wielding a hatchet rather than a scalpel, he says.
The city of Morgantown refused to comment for this story, citing the newly filed litigation, but in earlier reports it admitted to knowing about the crowd and claimed that it had dissipated before officers arrived. Morgantown Communications Director Andrew Stacy also said at the time of the incident that the city and county supported and were pleased with the state’s decision to close the bars again.
But the Mon County Commission never supported the bar closures, according to County Commissioner Tom Bloom. He says the commission is being ignored despite weekly requests for CARES Act money to help Mon County’s struggling restaurants and bars.
The uncertainty about how long they will remain closed keeps Glymph and his colleagues up at night. They’re demanding that the state make them whole for financial losses incurred during the shutdown. But more than anything, they just want to be open for business, even if they have to follow strict guidelines. The governor, the city of Morgantown and its interim city manager Emily Muzzarelli, and the state Alcohol Beverage Control Administration were named in the suit.
In an effort to help local businesses, Delegate John Williams penned a letter to the governor officially requesting $25 million in CARES Act money to distribute to local bars and small businesses. As of this publication, Williams says his request has not been acknowledged and that he plans to follow up with the governor’s office this week.
The question remains: Are all the bars to blame? Do Mon County bars that serve an older clientele, or a hotspot in rural Blacksville, really deserve to be shuttered over concerns about COVID cases in a specific population in the county that probably wouldn’t patronize either?
Bloom says there is no end in sight, despite Mon County magically returning to green on the county alert map over the weekend. “We don’t know what we have to do to reopen. There are no guidelines and that is a really big problem.”
And in a press conference Wednesday, Justice defended his decision to close the bars again. He said he hopes bars can reopen “real soon,” adding that the community needs “feet under us” first. He also said he would need assurances that the bars would follow more stringent guidelines and offered no update on CARES Act money requests.