WASHINGTON — Business owners who faced hardships due to coronavirus restrictions in the nation's capital “hope and pray” for relief as they seek to reverse the revocation of their operating licenses and make up financial losses two years into the pandemic.
Three business owners participated in a panel discussion hosted by the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation Wednesday and shared how coronavirus restrictions and mandates imposed by the city government have affected their ability to do business.
Heritage Foundation Vice President Rob Bluey moderated the discussion and noted that for the past two years, the District of Columbia had enacted “some of the most restrictive rules, affecting restaurants and businesses all across the city.”
“Many have closed their doors, and others … who have survived are still struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “For nearly two years, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council have invoked emergency powers, imposing mask mandates for schools and businesses and requiring restaurants to check their customers’ personal medical information.”
Eric Flannery, who owns a neighborhood bar called The Big Board, said he had his liquor license, health license and basic business license revoked because he refused to comply with the mandate requiring businesses to check whether customers had received the coronavirus vaccine and a mandate requiring his servers to wear masks.
He cited those policies as contradictory to his restaurant’s reputation to serve as a “place where everybody’s welcome.”
While the vaccine mandate has been lifted, Flannery’s business remains closed because the emergency powers enjoyed by the city have prevented him from appealing the decision to shutter his bar. The Big Board was among those featured at a protest against the D.C. vaccine mandate earlier this year. The organizer encouraged participants to gather at The Big Board following the event’s conclusion.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Flannery said he has “hope and faith” that his business will reopen.”
“The city is going to do the right thing and they’re going to come to the right answer,” he predicted.
As The Big Board remains closed, Flannery relies on the crowdfunding platforms GoFundMe and GiveSendGo to pay his employees.
As of Friday morning, The Big Board’s fundraiser on GiveSendGo had raised more than $23,000. The fundraiser for The Big Board on GoFundMe has raised approximately $35,000. Flannery told CP that “the outpouring of support from both of those sites has been almost magical.”
Flannery is taking legal action in an attempt to get his business reopened. His attorney, Robert Alt, another speaker at the Heritage panel, contended that the emergency powers invoked by the city violate the law. He pointed to the fact that the emergency declarations have lasted for two years, far beyond the “90-day limit” and “evaded the requirements of the Home Rule Charter that ensure that Congress can conduct meaningful oversight of D.C. laws.”
When asked why he chose to stay in D.C. instead of moving his business to another municipality with less severe coronavirus restrictions, Flannery responded: “I love Washington, D.C.”
“I love the people, who are here,” he said. “They’re fantastic. … Washington, D.C. is a fantastic area, it really is. So why would I want to leave?”
“The people who come in, they are part of our family,” he continued. “We know you, we know your kid’s names, we know your husband or wife’s names, we know who your friends are, we know what you drink, we know what you like to eat.”
The restaurant owner also spoke of how his staff “couldn’t get to work in a timely manner” because of reduced bus schedules in D.C. During that time, he said he “drove over to their house and picked them up, brought them into work and then at the end of the night, I put them back in my truck, and we’d drive back over there, and I’d drop them off and then I would go home.”
Some of Flannery’s employees had other jobs, while others worked exclusively at The Big Board. He reported that when the city forced the restaurant to shut down, all of his employees with other sources of income urged him to “make sure you get the people here who need work working.”
“The resiliency of the staff and the people that were there, it’s unbelievable,” he proclaimed. “The generosity of the staff who had other sources of income was fantastic.”
Flannery described his bar as a “neighborhood bar” where people come from “within five blocks” of their residence. He recalled that when he only had the option to provide take-out service, people would show up within five minutes after placing their order because “they really just wanted to talk with somebody for 15 minutes.”
Noe Landini serves as the managing director and chief executive officer of REX Management and owns three restaurants in the D.C. area called Junction.
One of his three restaurants is located on Capitol Hill, while the other two restaurants are located in Maryland and Virginia. Landini said the city’s coronavirus restrictions severely hampered his ability to do business at the Capitol Hill location. He still feels the effect of those restrictions.
He highlighted the differences in coronavirus restrictions between Washington and nearby Virginia.
“Our businesses have thrived in Virginia. … We broke every record … in terms of volume or revenue that we’ve ever set,” he said.
Landini told CP that he was “praying a lot” that his restaurant could “turn a corner” despite facing a situation that “doesn’t seem like there’s going to be any good outcome.”
“To try to keep a business open for two years when there’s no revenue … is almost impossible,” he said. “In fact, it is impossible. And also, you’re literally dealing with … impossible circumstances and trying to survive and make the best of it.”
The third business owner featured on the panel, Martin Avila, was forced to abandon his event-organizing business altogether because of government mandates banning large gatherings.
While he had to lay off all of his employees from his previous business, Avila brought many of his former employees along with him when he started his new company called Right Forge.
He said he started a “new company to fight back against what we were seeing as information flow that wasn’t truthful and the censoring of facts related to COVID.”
Right Forge is committed to “allowing people to stay online.”
“We started a hosting company and did the whole Biden 'learn to code thing’ and switched from being caterers to running a hosting company that is now wildly successful,” he added.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org