CLEVELAND — Bars and restaurants are under the microscope right now for maskless activities considered high risk during COVID-19.
Over the weekend, several local bars were cited and fined for violating COVID-protocols.
News 5 reached out to some repeat offenders, but didn’t hear back. However, we spoke to one local bar owner who said the rules are really hard to follow – and is now facing a pretty big fine, himself.
Deairius Houston bought a bar on Lorain Avenue and turned it into Villaforte Social Club in 2019.
“We are a bar that is for LGBTQ+ predominantly the minority, so more so Black customers here at the bar,” Houston said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on business.
Houston said most of his customers typically don’t come out until 11:30 p.m. or midnight - well after the 10 p.m. liquor curfew. And as a standalone bar without a restaurant, it's been tough.
“We don't have the luxury of people coming in to grab and go and do things like that because we're just a bar,” Houston said.
Saturday night, the bar was hit with a warning from the city of Cleveland for a number of infractions including: (1) failure to require social distancing; (2) requiring customers to be seated when consuming food and beverages; (3) failure to post maximum dining capacity and floor plan; (4) failure to establish a COVID maximum occupancy; (5) requiring the wearing of mask to enter or remain in the business; and failure to require capacity limits in open congregate area, to wit: dance floor.
It also received a citation from the Ohio Investigative Unit for COVID-related violations, including improper conduct and a permit not being posted. It comes with the possibility of a $4,000 fine from the Ohio Liquor Control Commission.
“Some things I didn't know and some things we just needed to more so reinforce,” Houston said.
Houston said he’s been forced to cut employee hours because of loss of revenue during the pandemic, so that means less people to enforce mask-wearing, but he said he previously reached out to officials about occupancy limits.
“To the owner of the building, to the city, to different people, to figure out how many people I can have in here and I've not gotten any responses on that,” Houston said.
Now, faced with a big bill - Houston is shutting down the business for a week to meet with his team to get things back up to compliance.
“Create a strategic plan with the information that they've given us after giving us the fine,” Houston said. “If I can get the help and get the understanding I'm going to do what is required or asked of me to do. But if I don't understand or I can't get the help then, I'm just trying to figure it out on my own.”
News 5 reached out to the city of Cleveland to ask about their outreach and education for local businesses and hasn't heard back.
Additional Coronavirus information and resources:
See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.
Rebound Northeast Ohio News 5's initiative to help people through the financial impact of the coronavirus by offering one place to go for information on everything available to help and how to access it. We're providing resources on:
Getting Back to Work - Learn about the latest job openings, how to file for benefits and succeed in the job market.
Making Ends Meet - Find help on topics from rent to food to new belt-tightening techniques.
Managing the Stress - Feeling isolated or frustrated? Learn ways to connect with people virtually, get counseling or manage your stress.
Doing What's Right - Keep track of the way people are spending your tax dollars and treating your community.
We're Open! Northeast Ohio is place created by News 5 to open us up to new ways of thinking, new ways of gathering and new ways of supporting each other.
Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Ohio, a timeline of Governor Mike DeWine's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Northeast Ohio, and link to more information from the Ohio Department of Health, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, the CDC and the WHO.
See data visualizations showing the impact of coronavirus in Ohio, including county-by-county maps, charts showing the spread of the disease, and more.
The CDC and the Ohio Department of Health are now recommending the use of cloth face coverings in public to slow the spread of COVID-19.
View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.