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WFAE's Social Distancing series looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, work, learn and connect with each other. The series is hosted by reporter Sarah Delia.

Social Distancing: Doors Remain Closed, But Hattie's Owner Holds Head High

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Sarah Delia
/
WFAE
Hattie's owner Jackie DeLoach is eagerly waiting to welcome back the community, but when it's safe.

Jackie DeLoach, the owner of Hattie’s Tap and Tavern, is still coming to work most days, but it’s not to chat with regulars. 

Instead of selling pints and shots, it’s hoodies and shirts.  

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"I mean it’s not a huge margin of profit, but it will pay a light bill," DeLoach, 34, said. "So that’s awesome to me. It’s fun being able to drive down the street and  you see someone walking around with your T-shirt on."

When it opened about six years ago, Hattie’s quickly became a staple in the Plaza Midwood, NoDa, and surrounding neighborhoods. The bar is named after DeLoah's grandmother, someone who always supported her dream of opening her own spot.

"I guess when I was 11 or 12 I told her that I wanted to open up my own restaurant like my great-grandfather and she reminded me of that all growing up and then I opened up a bar," DeLoach said. 

But everything came to a halt back in March when bars were ordered to shut down to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. They’ve been closed all summer, and now with Gov. Roy Cooper's most recent extension of Phase 2 restrictions, they’ll remain closed until at least Sept. 11.

It hasn’t been easy to stay closed, DeLoach said, but it’s the right thing to do.

"I’m not mad at Gov. Cooper at all," she said. "I know that he’s doing what he can to make sure everybody is safe."

And safety is what’s most important to DeLoach. For now, she’s able to pay her rent. She got a PPP loan to pay her employees, which helped a little. She knows there are bar owners who are really worried about surviving the pandemic, and she’s worried too. She wants people to wear masks so everyone can open up as soon as possible. 

"It’s honestly the people that as a whole need to come together and make a decision to help the small businesses more so than anything," she said. "And that includes the person who lives next door who doesn’t wear their mask when they go out. It starts with everybody."

Cooper also recently ordered alcohol sales stop at 11 p.m. after seeing restaurants turn into bars after the kitchen closed. DeLoach has seen videos of the crowded establishments online and it bothers her -- because she’s following the rules.

"It hurts my feelings, I’m not going to lie. You know you’re my neighbor and you’re going to be doing that kind of thing and basically sticking your middle finger up at us," DeLoach said. "They’re the reason this is getting worse and because you want to make some money. That’s greed. Yeah, it’s a business. And yeah, you want to make some money. But follow the rules so we can get back to normal."

Even when Hattie’s can legally reopen, how it happens, she said, will be a staff decision.

"I don’t want anybody to feel uncomfortable coming to work," she said. "And if you want to work, awesome. And if you don’t, that’s fine with me, as well. You’re not going to lose your job."

She’s used the past several months to prepare for a reopening. Stocking up on cleaning supplies, renovating Hattie’s back patio to include more benches to allow for social distancing. Seating will be spaced inside. No one will be sitting at the main bar.

"I will be here every day following people around and spraying down if I have to," she said. "I just want everyone to come back and see the regular space again."

And if having to shut down her business during a global pandemic wasn’t enough, she’s had to deal with two recent burglaries. The bar’s shed full of lawn equipment was broken into right after everything closed in March. Then, a couple of months later, a bigger hit came.

"Two guys came over here and they broke into my walk-in cooler and literally wiped out my walk-in cooler clean," DeLoach said. "They took thousands of dollars worth of alcohol. They tried to get inside the building, but were unsuccessful -- and that’s what eventually had my alarms go off."

Since then, she’s added more cameras and another alarm. Between the pandemic and the break-ins, it’s all been overwhelming. Usually when she feels down, she goes to her bar to see people and be social.

Right now, she’s got the bar -- but not the people.

"Without being able to be social and everything, it gets really difficult. But I have to keep my head up as high as I possibly can," she said. "This is my baby and I want this to open. If it’s three months from now or six months from now, I want to be able to open its doors to the public and I want to keep my head up high for it."

And the community seems to want the same. People have rallied around car washes for the bar. Hattie’s has also participated in a rooftop drive-in concert that raised funds for the bar and two other Charlotte favorites — Tommy’s Pub and the game bar Abari.

She's looking into holding virtual events in the weeks to come. She’s interested in any way to keep people connected. That’s part of the magic of Hattie’s, she said: The bar welcomes all walks of life. 

"I’ve got the banker sitting next to the kitchen guy and they’re having a conversation, and that’s what I’ve always wanted for Hatties," she said. "I like that."

Looking around her empty bar, she reflected that this is the hardest thing she’s been through. She has good days and bad days — she rides the same emotional rollercoaster so many of us do.

To keep herself busy, she comes and in and gets merchandise ready. She cleans tables she’s already gone over several times. However long it takes to get back to those days of community and conversation, she’s willing to wait.

Opening this spot was a dream she shared with her grandmother as a little girl. She won’t let it die.

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