Bars in Arkansas were allowed to reopen on Tuesday, with certain restrictions on capacity and social distancing.
This came despite the fact that the state is experiencing a second wave of coronavirus cases.
Business Insider spoke to the owners of two bars in Little Rock and Fayetteville, who both decided to remain closed.
They explained their concerns about employees' health, as well as discussed the financial impact of the pandemic on their industry.
Arkansas was among the first states to allow bars to reopen this week following coronavirus closures, but not all bar owners in the state agree with the government's decision.
Business Insider spoke to two Arkansas bar owners on Thursday who said they plan to remain closed for the time being, especially since the state is seeing cases rise again.
While the state never issued a stay-at-home order for citizens, bars were among the group of businesses ordered on March 19 to shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Related: Bumper Tables Are the Best Social-Distancing Invention
And on Tuesday, after more than nine weeks, Arkansas bars were allowed to reopen at 33% capacity, alongside other restrictions like spacing tables ten feet apart and requiring customers to wear face masks until they are served a drink.
Numerous bars in Little Rock are reopening this weekend, with many more planning to reopen in early June, with the new safety restrictions in mind.
Though the weeks of mandatory closure has financially damaged many Arkansas bars, some have decided to stay closed because of the threat reopening poses to public health, and the fact that restrictions would still make it hard to break even.
Reopening just to scrape by
One of the reasons he didn't jump to reopen his bar immediately after the state gave permission was because he fears for the health of his employees.
"I'm trying to take everything with a side of caution," he told Business Insider. "We have a couple employees who have asthma and underlying conditions."
"Their health is a priority to me."
Robinson also said it didn't make sense to reopen when the restrictions the government laid out would still make it hard for him to make money.
"It seems counterproductive for me to open up, have my employees come back to work, just to kind of scrape by at a 33% profit margin," he said.
"It's almost like opening up to tread water and not to drown — and on top of that risking the health of you and others for that little bit of money."
Bar owners are 'up against the wall'
Bo Counts, the owner of Pinpoint Fayetteville, a pinball bar, also worries about his staff.
"As tough as it is to try and figure out how to get these bills paid ... I have to think about my staff," Counts told Business Insider.
Counts estimates that he has paid about $40,000 in rent and bills while the bar was shut down, and lost $150,000 in revenue.
This also isn't a good time for Pinpoint Fayetteville to reopen. The bar considers this time of year a dry season, since students in the college town are home for the summer.
Counts said, however, he can understand why other bars might feel an economic pressure to reopen, and that he wouldn't judge them if they do.
"Do I think these businesses that are deciding to open are irresponsible for doing so? No," Counts said.
"I think they're up against the wall. Landlords aren't giving them any breaks, there's been no government assistance and no tax relief."
Robinson estimates that he has taken a hit of between $40,000 and $50,000, but said he is lucky to have a good relationship with his landlord, who has been flexible on rent.
"I see both sides of the equation, but my personal decision is that I think it's too early," Count said. "Especially after what we've seen with Memorial Day and still continuing to see cases rise and spike."
The state had traced a cluster of new cases to a high school pool party held over Memorial Day weekend. New daily infections jumped from 97 to 261 between Wednesday and Thursday, with Gov. Asa Hutchinson describing the new cases as a "second wave."
Federal loan program has been little help
Both Robinson and Counts spoke about the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was meant to help businesses stay afloat during the pandemic with loans to help pay employees' salaries.
Both pointed out how the program hasn't been much use for bars.
"If you've read it, and seen how you do it, it doesn't apply to a lot of these bars," Counts said, adding that many bars did not send in applications for the loan.
According to the terms of the program, 75% of the money must go to pay employees, and in order for the loan to be forgiven, it has to be used within eight weeks of being dispensed. This could prove difficult for businesses that have not yet reopened.
Robinson said he applied and received a PPP loan, but is nearing the end of his eight weeks.
This has put him in a tough position because he isn't reopening yet, and fears the loan might not be forgiven if he doesn't pay his employees with the money soon.
He said he hopes Congress changes the rules about how this money can be used so that he can pay his employees with these funds once he reopens, and still have the loan forgiven.
If it isn't forgiven, "that would really put me in the hole," he said.
Counts said he also applied for a PPP loan, but retracted his application when he learned he was "only eligible for a small amount" and "wouldn't be able to really use it effectively given the circumstances."
Many other small business owners have spoken of the difficulty of using the loan.
The social-distancing police
Robinson and Counts said they were also nervous about how drinking might lead to customers exercising less caution, and therefore put everyone in the bar at risk.
Counts pointed to the outrage over parties at Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks over Memorial Day weekend. He said you can have rules in place, but then get "bum-rushed by 100 people that aren't gonna follow" them.
One person who attended the Ozarks pool party has since tested positive for COVID-19. They could have been infectious at the time of the party.
It's also a "big ask" to have bar employees enforce social-distancing measures on customers who throw caution to the wind, Counts said, since they already have so much work to do greeting guests, making drinks, cleaning, and making sales.
Robinson feels like the government restrictions puts him and his employees in an awkward position.
"My biggest problem is it seems like this whole virus has gotten so politicized," he said.
"You have a group of people that feel it's ridiculous to wear a mask out in public, they refuse to do business in a place because you're required to wear a mask. Or you have other people who think you should wear masks constantly 24/7 when you're outside."
"It's tough. As a business owner, I've got to say: 'Hey, you're required to wear a mask when you come in.' And if you don't like it, I guess I'll get an earful and they'll go somewhere else," he said.
Mark Makela/Getty Images
'Our industry is going to suffer'
Both bar owners worry about the long-term impact the outbreak will have on their industry.
"People go to the bar to relax and kind of forget about the hardships of their day," Robinson said. "It's got to be hard to go in now, and it seems like have even more anxiety and you're even more worried about things."
Robinson said: "Until there's enough tests that let people know if they have the virus, or there's a viable vaccine, our industry is going to suffer."
"You can take all the safety measures in the world, but the fear that people have of each other is not something we can control," Counts said.
"We're not selling you a cheeseburger you love, we're selling you a place to gather with humans," he added. "And if you're afraid of gathering with people even after this is gone, that really hurts our business."