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Coronavirus news and updates about the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

BizWorthy: Bars, Gyms Vulnerable As Gov. Cooper Extends Phase 2 Again

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Pins Mechanical
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Pins Mechanical briefly opened last week in defiance of Gov. Roy Cooper's executive order ... but then closed again.

Gov. Roy Cooper has again extended Phase 2 restrictions. Bars, gyms and entertainment venues in North Carolina will have to remain closed for at least another month. In making the announcement Wednesday, Cooper said while the state's coronavirus trends are stabilizing, he wants to see them decline before moving into Phase 3. For more on the impact to businesses, we turn to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment, BizWorthy.

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Marshall Terry: Tony, some of these businesses have to be pretty desperate by now. Is there anything they can do besides opening in violation of the governor's order?

Tony Mecia: Well, not really, Marshall. You know, we've seen some gyms maybe get a little creative and do some things outside, some pictures on social media of a ballet company that was doing all of its ballet outside. There's not a whole lot of options, I think, that they really have. We talked to a lot of business owners and it's really pretty difficult and kind of devastating for their businesses to be told they can't open for another month.

Terry: And some of these places, I know bars in Charlotte, have opened in violation of the governor's order, but they've quickly been told to shut down.

Mecia: Yeah, there was one they got a fair amount of attention them in the last week, Pins Mechanical in South End, where the owner said, listen, I need to open up. It's a matter of survival for me. Said that very publicly to a number of media and sort of caught the attention of local authorities who had a police officer talk with them and they closed down, yet again. So, there's a lot of frustration out there among business owners and some, I think, are sort of trying to open on the sly. I don't know how well that's going.

Terry: These businesses, bars, gyms and concert and performing arts venues, they've been closed over the summer. They're of course, now looking at more time staying closed. How vulnerable are they if they can't open for at least another month?

Mecia: Well, I think they're pretty vulnerable. Some of them have these Paycheck Protection Program loans which help fund employees and keeping people on the payroll. That can only last a certain amount of time. Some might have some other sort of the revenue. When you talk about concert halls, some of that might be underwritten by donors. But if you don't have any revenue coming in for months at a time, that's a big problem. A lot of these companies, they don't have a whole lot of money in reserve. There are a lot of businesses, I think, that are maybe waiting to see -- does Washington come up with some other solution? There's been talk of another round of loans to help out businesses and some other measures. They haven't settled on anything yet.

To get to your question, Marshall: Yes, I think it is going to be a real problem.

Terry: Breweries are allowed to be open right now, but not bars. Why is that exactly?

Mecia: Yeah, it's always been an interesting question since they've come out in the last few weeks with these rules that allow the breweries to be open, but the bars have to be closed. And Gov. Cooper was actually asked that Wednesday at his press conference, Marshall, and the answer wasn't exactly clear. He said something about how breweries had presented a good public safety plan for being open, but that sort of implied the bars hadn't.

I think a lot of it has to do with they really don't want people congregating and sort of bellying up to the bar, competing to get a drink from the bartender and crowding around. You know, if you think of a brewery, a lot of those tend to be, at least in my experience -- maybe yours -- tend to be a little more spread out. It's not quite as many people congregating. But again, to a lot of people, it seems really like a very arbitrary difference.

Terry: This is the third time Cooper has extended Phase 2 restrictions. In the past, extensions have been just a few weeks. This one is more than a month. Why is that?

Mecia: Well, what Cooper said was he would like to see what happens with a lot of schools reopening in the state, at least partially reopening. A lot of the universities are going back to school this week. So they sort of want to take a little bit of a wait-and-see approach and see what's going to happen there, just to make sure that they don't reopen, then you have all these universities and schools opening and the virus spread and goes up. They don't want to be in a position of opening things up and then having to close them again, like other states have, Cooper said. So it even though some of the numbers seem to be heading in the right direction and have been for the last couple of weeks, they're positioning it as being a cautious move, with some uncertainty ahead.

Terry: You report the number of COVID-19 price-gouging complaints has declined in North Carolina. What kind of complaints have people filed and why are there now fewer of them?

Mecia: Sure. Anytime there's a state of emergency, one of the orders that comes with that from the governor's office is the prohibition against price gouging, which means that business cannot charge unreasonably high prices. Usually we hear of states of emergency related to hurricanes and people charging too much for chain saws, bottled water. But in the start of the COVID pandemic, it was a little bit different. You saw a lot of people complaining about high prices of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, grocery items.

Those have leveled off in the last couple of months, there have been about 2,100 complaints filed with the state through June. But it's really been reduced to a trickle in the last few weeks.

Terry: Has the state Attorney General taken action on any of the complaints?

Mecia: Yeah. They've filed one suit a couple of months ago against a Charlotte towing company that they said had been too aggressive in booting and towing trucks that were delivering food and medical supplies, charging the owners of up to $4,400 in some cases to release those. So that's that's one case that they filed, and they had 2,100 complaints. So not a lot of really egregious cases, I guess.

Terry: All right. We're going to leave it there. Thanks, Tony.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.

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