IN FOCUS: Bars sue Utah governor over 10 p.m. drink curfew

In Focus

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – On Thursday, ten bar owners filed a lawsuit over the public health order mandating no drinks be served after 10 p.m. — a lawsuit that named Utah’s governor and the state’s interim health director.

“Ultimately, every bar owner is fearing closure based on financial ruin,” said Micheal Repp with the Sun Trapp.

“Over the last, I would say 90 days, a multitude of bars have closed. I know of two bars that will probably close next week, just based on financial incapability to keep their staff employed,” added Repp.

In part, the lawsuit reads:

“The 10:00 pm alcohol service curfew contained in these orders is an unreasonable restriction on the business operations of the Plaintiffs, causing irreparable and distinct harms to the Plaintiffs’ bar and restaurant establishments and employees, without evidence or justification from the Governor or Utah Department of Health that this restriction is necessary or narrowly tailored to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus 2019 (“COVID-19”) in these businesses.”

Utah bars like the Sun Trapp say they are doing everything in their power — sanitizing, temperature checks, contact tracing sign in — to make their establishment safe. Daily routines include nearly four hours of disinfecting, sanitizing and scrubbing all surfaces to keep patrons safe.

After a number of bar owners sent a coordinated letter to Gov. Gary Herbert last week to plead their case, a letter that they say went ignored. The attorney representing the bars told ABC4 that legal action could be their only chance at survival.

“I think people should care about this because it’s going to have an enormous impact on our economy,” said attorney Janelle Bauer.

She added, “It is going to leave a lot of empty buildings in city centers, and in their neighborhoods. These neighborhood bars are very much struggling with this. So it’s going to impact everyone.”

One bar doesn’t even open until 9 p.m., she says, while so many others depend upon the later hours to run the business.

“It’s cutting off their main source of revenue and profit. They can’t pay their employees. They can’t keep up with their insurance premiums. It’s really devastating to them,” said Bauer.

Repp says they’re doing 1/8 of normal business and that even if his establishment can survive the pandemic, he’s concerned about customers permanently changing their behavior — opting to stay home instead of going out.

“Pretty much every bar in Utah — unless you are substantial food entity as well along with your bar –you don’t get get an evening crowd until 9:30 p.m. You have 28 minutes to serve your drinks at that point, which means if you have five people in your bar, you’re going to make approximately fifty dollars in revenue at that point,” said Repp.

A spokesperson for Gov. Gary Herbert told ABC4 that they don’t comment on pending litigation, as per their policy.

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