North Carolina will enter Phase 2.5 of Governor Roy Cooper's economic reopening plan this Friday, allowing gyms, playgrounds, and museums to reopen. Bars, though, must remain closed, leaving owners struggling to determine a way forward. 

Brian Cole, with Silver Moon Saloon, Hoots Beer Company, and Carlisle's Pub, says when his businesses first closed, he was optimistic. Now, the nerves have set in. 

“I know it's not like the government can just put out a set date of ‘Hey, this is magically when it will all clear up.' I'm not saying that,” said Cole. “I'm just saying that, please give us some understanding of what a path might be to return to business, much as you did for every other type of business in the state now.”

The state's bar industry reports that 85% of alcohol-serving businesses including breweries have already been allowed to reopen, a point that has sparked complaints from bar owners. Cole says he's been able to stay afloat in part because Hoots Beer Company, a brewery, is open again. 

“I agree with the bar owners. I'm grateful that we've been able to open Hoots. And I think we've done it well as far as practicing social distancing,” said Cole. “But I can tell you with an inside seat on both sides that there's not an awful lot of difference in the way that we operate.”

Tim Nolan, co-owner of Fair Witness Fancy Drinks in Winston-Salem, says ideally, he'd like to stay closed for as long as the pandemic remains a threat. 

“My overall view is that all of these half measures that were taken sort of exacerbated the problem and put us in a position where this is stretching out,” said Nolan. “Look at a city like New York where they took hard and heavy measures, there are bars that are opening there. So, you know, that's what's frustrating to me.”

But, he says, because the state hasn't handed down financial support for bar owners alongside the closure mandates, he understands why many of his colleagues are tempted to skirt the rules and reopen. 

“You're hemorrhaging money, and you're scared, and there doesn't seem to be any grown-ups anywhere around to ask questions to,” said Nolan. “And I think eventually people just tap out and they go like, 'I can't take it anymore. I've got to do what I've got to do.'”

Nolan says thanks to a generous landlord and savings, they'll be able to stay in business until at least December, regardless of whether the closure orders are extended. 

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