Downtown bar owners ask Juneau to reconsider COVID-19 restrictions

People, masked and unmasked, in downtown on Saturday, September 5, 2020, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
People, masked and unmasked, in downtown on September 5, 2020, in Juneau. A cadre of local bar owners have complained that the city’s pandemic mitigation restrictions are applied unfairly. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Some Juneau bar owners feel the city is unfairly enforcing COVID-19 business restrictions. 

In an Oct. 5 letter to City Manager Rorie Watt, attorney Chris Peloso wrote that the emergency order related to business closures is being enforced in an “arbitrary and capricious manner.”

Peloso, who wrote on behalf of a group of local bars, said when the city closed bars after a recent spike in positive cases, it allowed restaurants to stay open with capacity limits. Bars that don’t serve food had to close. 

“Even if they’re allowed to stay open at half capacity, they’re at least able to make some money and keep their employees employed. When the bars completely closed, you know, income goes down to zero, they have to lay off their staff, all of their perishable items go bad and it just doesn’t seem particularly fair,” Peloso said.

The way the city’s community mitigation measures define restaurants and bars is also an issue, he said. Many bars were able to stay open during the two-week closure because they also sell food or have a separate restaurant on their property.

Peloso said those exceptions don’t make sense. 

“Just the fact that you can get a burrito on the other side of the room doesn’t have any effect on whether or not you could transmit a disease,” he said.

Peloso said the group he represents is made up of about five different downtown bars. Several bar owners contacted for this story didn’t respond to requests for comment.   

During a community update on Tuesday, Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said she met with representatives of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association to discuss similar concerns. 

“They asked us to consider some potential revisions to the community mitigation measures. So we are taking that under advisement,” she said.

But since the next Juneau Assembly meeting isn’t until Oct. 26, there won’t be any resolution for some time. 

This post has been updated. 


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