West Virginia's small business community applauds decision to reopen Monongalia County bars

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Gov. Jim Justice’s decision to allow bars to reopen in Monongalia County on Tuesday received support from members of the small business community.

After Monongalia County saw a spike in COVID-19 cases when West Virginia began to reopen the state, the governor ordered all the bars in the county to shut down, and the bars have remained closed since that decision in mid-July.

Justice will allow the bars to open if they follow COVID-19-related guidelines, which includes mask wearing when not eating or drinking and social distancing.

“This is real progress,” Gil White, the West Virginia state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, told The Center Square. The NFIB is the largest small business association in the country.

“West Virginia’s small business owners are doing their part to deliver their products and services to customers safely, but their survival depends on having customers,” White said. “NFIB’s latest survey shows 16% of small business owners nationwide can afford to stay in business only three to six months under current conditions, while 47% say they’ll need additional financial support over the next 12 months. Tuesday reopening announcement will relieve some of the financial pressure on West Virginia bars and restaurants and make it easier for them to get through the current economic crisis without having to cut jobs or close for good.”

Justice said in a statement he will beef up enforcement of his guidelines by sending more state police and agents from the West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration. If people are not wearing masks or people are packed in near each other, bars will be shut down again and have their licenses suspended.

“Please, I don’t like anything that becomes threatening,” Justice said. “But you’ve got to listen to us. You’ve got to do everything in your power so that we don’t slip back into where we were before. To all the bar owners: try as hard as you possibly can, and we’ll work with you. If you’ll give it everything you’ve got, we’ll give it everything we’ve got, and we’ll succeed.”

The federal government has provided federal relief for businesses that have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic restrictions. Congress is negotiating another stimulus package but talks have broken down between Republicans and Democrats in recent weeks.

During a news conference Monday, Justice blamed the unsuccessful negotiations on politics with elections coming up in about a month. He accused Washington lawmakers of acting like children and said he hopes they can come to an agreement before the election.

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