Fair warning, every year at our anniversary party I give 25 minutes of prepared remarks that last for 45. You won’t need popcorn to read to the end but perhaps a beer says the publican in me?
We don’t have the power to write our own stories or dictate how the future unfolds in front of us. We certainly are not issued any sort of roadmap or guidance for Black Swan instances that unveil and quickly consume our path ahead. All we can do, is maneuver through life and be our best possible selves. I’ve owned a business since 2001. I opened and guided 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar successfully through the economic crash of 9/11 and all but one month of the great recession before I sold it. I was lucky to post successive growth months through both of those tough situations. 9/11 being the hardest emotionally as I worked at Windows on the World in the first tower from 1996-1998. One of the first true restaurant professionals I met at Windows, Jupiter Yambem passed away that day. I put his name here so he can be remembered. But even this is so much different than 9/11 and I mention it not to compare but to show that we, as a people, emerge stronger from difficult situations. There are many small business owners across the nation and in our city sharing this struggle with me today. We are a tough bunch and we support each other.
St. Louis pubs and restaurants are deeply woven into the fabric of our lives. Great pubs and restaurants are where this city goes when we’re celebrating, when we are sad and all those places in between. There are so many wonderful places in our city staffed by so many talented and hard-working professionals. I firmly believe these great pubs and restaurants and that many of the people that choose to be a bartender, server, cook, manager, or owner play a substantial role in what binds this city together and all of us are struggling right now to make sense of how to appropriately proceed. To which there is no roadmap, no detailed instruction manual and certainly no yellow brick road to follow.
A pub should never close has always been my battle cry. I’m a tried and true battle tested publican of 18 plus years. I love pulling pints for you our faithful customers way more than I love doing the books, paying bills and tracking our finances. Few know this but for 18 plus years, every day the first sale of the day occurred, I say “On the board” in my mind, a sports analogy for the first score of the day. I love the banter and conversation and the constant flow of our regulars and so many customers that move through our pub sharing their stories over pints. A handshake, a hug, a smile, a kind hello and a thank you are truly things that I love to do, every time. I have lived my publican life determined to serve, to listen and to preserve the fact that one of America’s greatest rituals: The act of joining a friend in a pub for a pint can get us through any damn thing this world throws at us. Until now.
I have oscillated on the moral dilemma presented before me even before yesterday’s CDC press conference and had planned to not re-open today regardless. I watched this build and unfold in Italy closely and I can’t quite get passed the healthcare professionals diligently serving their Hippocratic Oath out of my mind. The story of doctors choosing which patient would receive the open ventilator pulls every heart string I have. The data and exponential growth curve I have come to understand is putting us on a dangerous path towards overwhelming our hospitals and the people that work there. Some of those professionals are customers of ours. A few of our customers may at some point in the coming months need treatment at a local hospital. Maybe for this or maybe for something else. This also really hits home for me too as my wife and I are expecting our 2nd child to arrive in the middle of April. It’s not just us, thousands of St. Louisans will need care in our hospitals over the coming months all while our hospital system is handling this rapidly moving easily transmittable virus to which we have no defenses. Yes, you are correct a lot of people will only experience mild symptoms. Please understand mild to some doesn’t mean mild to all.
It is for them, for our city’s elderly, for our immune compromised and for my pub staff to which I can no longer guarantee a safe work-place that I made the hard decision to close our pub until this has passed. I feel and understand both sides of this difficult decision for our city’s pubs and restaurant owners.
I’m no moral lighthouse on any business matter and please do not take this as such, but this is the only path that works for the Civil Life. Everyone has different challenges ahead. If I close now and stop, I can save the Civil Life to be re-opened. I’m just a small business owner trying to do my best to navigate through these unchartered waters and understand as best as I can the situation that could overcome our city if we don’t act now. If closing this pub prevents transmission of just one case that then doesn’t cascade into many more, it is entirely worth it. Exponential growth is scary. New York declared its first case on March 1st. Yesterday 223 were added to bring the number of their cases to a total of 969. Today 405 were added by noon. That number will continue to grow and it very likely will soon crash their health care system. If we prevent that from happening in St. Louis, more resources can be sent to help our fellow Americans in other cities in this big country of ours.
We will be continuing our beer production on a limited basis as long as I am comfortable that our staff is working safely. We are doing our best to stagger shifts and have implemented strict distancing rules between employees. I am going to be working on a plan for beer to go. If I feel we can successfully do the work while keeping our staff safe, I will do it. If I can’t guarantee a safe workspace, I will not hesitate to stop operations until I can or until I am comfortable with the guidance issued.
The last two days have been the most surreal days of my life as I chart a new course to preserve what I can and protect the core of this little company. It comes in waves as I work through plans in my mind and fought to determine a way to keep everything open. Sadly the little kitchen that could is only 60 square feet and it now just can’t. So many of us are struggling right now to process a rapidly changing world. Don’t worry, I assure you. This too will pass. And when it passes, we will know exactly who we have become. I know that if I make this hard decision now, I will be able to re-open again down the road in some capacity.
I already look forward to that day when I can open our pub doors again and welcome you back with hugs, handshakes and heartfelt thanks. The Civil Life pursuit to pour the perfect pint will continue down the road.
Until then let’s put our efforts together to flatten the curve. If my memory serves me correctly, there are 777 ICU beds in our local hospitals. I am no health care or authority on this but from what I read that likely leaves about 220 to 250 available at this time, perhaps a few less and perhaps a few more. If you know a health care provider, put a hug in a hug bank for them and the work they are about to do to help care for our city’s sick.
Send a text or an email but be quick and don’t expect a response. They are embarking on their own journey and we need them now more than ever. Reach out to your favorite bartender or server and let them know you are thinking about them. I can tell you I appreciate tremendously all the kind words and actions directed to me. The collective power of kindness and civility carries us through these times.
Please consider donating to a local food bank. There are many poor and underserved in our community that will need us more than ever. We are all in this together. As soon as I have had time to discuss further with each of my staff, I will update everyone on this page on what the immediate future will look like for our company and for them.
Until then, Be Calm and Be Civil.
Yours in beer,
The Civil Blog has returned. It is predominantly authored by Civil Life Barman, Dr. Patrick Hurley, who can be found tending to our bar patrons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He is also responsible for tending to our draft lines, which is recognized as one of our most important tasks. Special guest writers will appear from time to time. We hope reading this blog will give you much insight about the Civil Life and most importantly help you understand a bit more about all of us that work here and the beers we put our hearts into.