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Bars ‘breaking the bank’: El Paso bar industry on “decade-long” road to financial r…

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM)– In El Paso, the bar industry always thrives, but in 2020, it was last call for everyone.

It’s no secret millions of businesses across the country felt the weight of the pandemic. Reports of dramatic budget cutbacks prompted KTSM to take a close look at pre-pandemic revenue at area bars. The result clearly showed the financial impact virus-related closures and curfews had on locally owned bars.

“Anytime you close a business it’s scary,” Colby Shannon, owner of Gringo Theory in East El Paso said. “We still have bills coming in and fixed costs.”

State mixed beverage receipts provide a snapshot of business shortcomings last year. In 2019, bars turned $170,284,034 in revenue. But financial growth in the bar scene took a dramatic plunge in 2020, with receipts totaling at $88,616,073.

Mixed beverage gross receipts do not reflect food sales but are generally considered to be a good indicator of financial activity for alcohol related businesses in the state.

In the first two months of 2020, bars were on pace to surpass 2019’s revenue, turning more than $13 millions dollars in January and more than $14 million in February. However, once the pandemic hit in March, that was drastically cut in half.

Bars were closed by local officials on March 17, including lounges, taverns, nightclubs and arcades. By March 24, an official “Stay Home, Work Safe” order was implemented, requiring the public to stay home and only go out in public for essential items.

By April 1, El Paso leaders strengthened the order and bars and restaurants could only operate curbside. In April, bars turned less than $380,000 dollars, comparable to $13.5 million in April 2019.

Bar owners said they first had to overcome the closures, while they understood why they needed to shut their doors in the first place.

“Back last year, we were closed three times,” Shannon said. “When COVID-19 first happened, I thought it would be a few weeks thing and now we’re almost at the year anniversary of it and its still here,” Shannon said.

Austin Allen, owner of the Palomino Tavern in the Cincinnati Entertainment District of West El Paso, said many bars jumped on the opportunity to convert to a restaurant in order to open their doors.

“If you’re a bar owner in El Paso County and you don’t have a food and beverage license, you’re still closed per the county,” Allen said.

Bars in El Paso are technically still ordered shut by El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego until the area hospitalization rate declines to 15%. Bars can legally operate by obtaining a food and beverage license, which comes with a strict set of rules.

“We have to maintain a 51% or greater food to alcohol sales and you know that’s an extremely difficult task considering that’s not our primary form of business,” Allen said.

El Paso was also under a curfew which required restaurants and bars operating as restaurants to…

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