West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice recently announced that bars and restaurants would be allowed to open to full capacity. This came as a blessing for some Morgantown venues.
“It’s been very helpful,” said Chris Evans, co-owner of the Metropolitan Billiards Parlor. “We’re still following social distancing rules, but it’s allowed us to have about 15 more people than we could have in the pool hall previously.”
Evans said that the timing especially helped.
“It’s great timing with the weather getting nice,” Evans said. “Thankfully we have a huge space, and our normal capacity is only 49 people since we’re below ground, so we’ll take it.”
Keeping revenues high enough to continue operations presented a challenge for Evans and his co-owner. He owns a restaurant on High Street as well and said there have been struggles across the board.
“I think struggles have varied based on business type,” Evans said. “The first few months were hard on everybody, but we’ve seen a steady increase, even before the increase to 75% and then 100%, in people wanting to get back out of the house since basically the New Year.”
Evans said that despite the announcement coming closer to the summer, he still feels optimistic about visitor increases when students leave Morgantown.
“We certainly attract students, but we also attract a lot of locals,” Evans said. “With this year, the campus not being as vibrant as normal — I feel like if we’re already doing pretty well, hopefully we can sustain it through the summer.”
Some, however, were a bit more skeptical. Cody Cheesebrough, co-owner of Morgantown Brewing Company, said he did not think much would change for his establishment.
“The problem wasn’t so much that we had to turn people away or that we couldn’t get enough people in here. The real problem was that people just aren’t leaving home,” Cheesebrough said. “Even though we’re allowed to have a lot more people in all of a sudden, a ton more people will come. Some people are actually avoiding restaurants because they know that now they’re more crowded.”
Cheesebrough said that despite an increase in business, he would not attribute it to the announcement.
“We have seen an uptick in business, but it’s mostly because the weather has gotten nicer and we have outdoor seating, which is just so much nicer when the weather is good,” Cheesebrough said. “Over the summer, we only allow outdoor seating. Even though we have indoor seating, it just wasn’t really worth the risk. Now that the weather is nicer, people can sit outside again, and we’ve gotten some of these customers back.”
Hyatt George, a senior history student, said he would be excited to see more people. He turned 21 years old the very day that bars closed and said he was excited to socialize.
“I just like talking to people. I can start a conversation with anyone, anytime, anywhere,” George said. “Bars are just like the hub for social interaction.”
George said that, despite the pandemic, he never felt too unsafe in bars.
“I’ve actually been to a few [bars] during this [pandemic],” George said. “I mainly just go to the same bar, [Sunnyside] Bullpen. I’ll probably just continue the same way I’m doing now. When I go places, I keep my mask on a majority of the time. I get tested weekly as well as an RA. If I do go to a bar, I’ll come back and only talk to the same people I always do anyway.”
Noah Spencer, a senior biology student, was a bit less enthusiastic.
“I was not a regular on the bar scene,” Spencer said. “Obviously, I’ve been itching to [go back out] for a while, but I haven’t gotten any kind of vaccination yet, and certainly being unmasked in indoor places is not a good idea, and I don’t plan to do it.”
Spencer said that he felt warmer toward venues with outdoor seating, which he believed to be a far safer choice.
“As for places with real outdoor seating, that’s kind of a different question,” Spencer said. “I guess we’ll see how things progress as the weather warms up. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the numbers here in Morgantown, and hopefully, vaccines for people my age will be on their way before long. I guess it’ll just come down to that sort of risk calculation for me.”