Vermont Bars Prepare to Reopen From COVID-19 Hiatus

Vermont bars and clubs, including the VFW and Elks Lodge, may reopen this Wednesday after more than four months of shutdowns

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Vermont bars and social clubs can reopen this week — with COVID-19 prevention measures in place — after months of having the “closed” sign hung on their doors.

“It’s been way too long,” said Kenny Ploof, the manager of the St. John’s Club in Burlington. “It’ll be great to see the people.”

Like other Vermont clubs, the fixture on Lake Champlain has had to stay closed since mid-November, under state orders aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

However, Gov. Phil Scott announced that Wednesday, March 24, bars and organizations like the VFW, American Legion and Elks Lodge can reopen under the same rules restaurants here have been following.

Those include 50% occupancy limits for now, ending in-person table service at 10 p.m., keeping customer logs and spacing tables six feet apart. No more than six people may be seated at a table and there is to be no standing or mingling, according to rules published by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

“I’m sure this is welcome news to most,” Scott said Friday, when he made the announcement. “I want to remind everyone, it’s more important than ever to follow the health guidance.”

By April 19, all Vermont residents will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

That guidance, Scott said, emphasizes staying home if you’re feeling unwell, wearing masks in public, avoiding crowded places and washing hands well.

Friday’s notification means many bars and clubs have spent the past few days preparing for Wednesday’s reopening.

“Reopening a bar is a lot of work — it’s basically starting again,” said Ryan Chaffin at Farrell Distributing.

He added that a challenge for bars and clubs in the weeks ahead will be knowing what to order and how much — especially with products like craft beer, where freshness counts.

Farrell Distributing is helping its accounts with industry analysis and other advice, Chaffin said.

“It’s a very tricky dance, but you know, we’ve handled it for the last year and there’ll probably be some more curveballs here and there,” Chaffin said Monday. “It’s obviously not a perfect science. But we’re trying, on our side, to make sure everything’s here when [bars and social clubs] are ready to go.”

A team of women who run restaurants started a group called Let's Talk to help each other solve coronavirus-related issues facing the industry.

Back at the St. John’s Club, the busy manager said, with fresh air known to be safer from COVID-19, the club’s outdoor area is sure to be the main place folks gather after being away since last fall.

“I get emails every day, ‘Yay, can’t wait — can’t wait to see you guys,’” Ploof said.

Scott made it clear in his announcement Friday that cities and towns do have authority to place their own local rules on bar operations.

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