During phase two, Charlotte bars should be closed. Why are some opening anyway?

During phase two, Charlotte bars should be closed. Why are some opening anyway?
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The Facebook post heard ’round the city: Pins Mechanical Co. wrote on Facebook Thursday to announce its reopening. “REUNITED AND IT FEELS SOOO GOOD! Queen City, we’re back!”

It stirred up strong reactions on Twitter from those wondering how the bar, which doesn’t serve food, was allowed to open.

The popular South End bar and arcade reopened on Thursday with limited hours and enhanced cleaning procedures but it’s not allowed to open under phase two at all. Statewide coronavirus restrictions don’t allow bowling alleys to reopen either, however, Pins’ duckpin lanes were, at least for a single night, available to customers.

Rise Brands, the company that owns Pins locations in Charlotte and six other cities, is aware of North Carolina’s restrictions. Though CEO Troy Allen argues that the food trucks operating on the property do provide food service.

Allen told the Agenda that after four-and-a-half months of being closed in Charlotte, he needs to get his employees back to work and make up for lost money on the 30,000 square foot property’s lease.

“We either have to open and kind of change the thinking and show people how it can be done, or there’s potential of going out of business,” he says.

On Friday evening, though, about 24 hours after opening, Pins closed abruptly. In a statement sent to the Agenda, County health director Gibbie Harris said, “Pins is not a restaurant. They have no permit to operate as one.” By 7 p.m., the doors were shut.

As of Monday afternoon, the Pins website reads “TEMPORARILY CLOSED” under hours for the Charlotte location.

Before closing Friday, Allen, who’s based in Columbus, Ohio, told the Agenda he saw many of Charlotte’s restaurants operating without social distancing or masks during a recent trip to the city. He also saw bars and businesses that weren’t allowed to reopen operating without safety measures in place.

He says Rise Brands has spent over $100,000 on safety equipment for its locations. The plan was to use medical grade UV technology to clean duckpin balls and other shared surfaces. It would also require masks, and staff would be asked to ensure customers sit while drinking instead of congregating at the bar.

“We’re breaking a rule by opening but this will probably be one of the safest places you’ll be in Charlotte,” Allen said.

rooftop patio at pins mechanical

View from the rooftop bar at Pins Mechanical

During the pandemic, medical professionals and public officials have said the safest place to be is inside your home.

Yet, in recent weeks videos of large, non-socially distanced crowds at establishments like Ink and Ivy and Explict circulated on social media and were met with questions about coronavirus restrictions and enforcement. Those large crowds helped inspire a Mecklenburg County, and now statewide, alcohol sales ban at restaurants and bars after 11 p.m.

CMPD has said it will first educate business owners on restrictions and move to enforcement second.

In an email to the Agenda on Friday, the CharMeck Joint Information Center said CMPD investigated Pins Mechanical and found “indications that they are open only as a restaurant with alcohol sales without the bowling and gaming portion.” However, Allen says some games were being offered to customers and the only food sales came from food trucks parked outside.

Allen told us he reached out to local and state officials regarding Pins Mechanical’s reopening. He also met with local Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) agents who explained the enforcement process, which starts with education and leads to warnings and citations.

“Hospitality is highly regulated,” Allen says. “We are putting people in an environment that is a highly regulated environment that if people are following the rules and doing it right, it’s safe.”

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