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Cleveland bar owner facing $4,000 fine asks for more clarity on COVID-19 guidelines

Posted at 5:16 PM, Nov 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-17 18:36:04-05

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.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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