Another early closure order in Grand Forks 'painful,' bar owner says
“There’s no way to see the future, but if we have to do this now, we hope that we don’t have to do it again," said Sarah Horak, co-owns multiple establishments.
The second mayoral order that requires Sarah Horak to close her downtown Grand Forks bars wasn’t as shocking as the first, she said.
“But it’s still – I don’t know another way to say it except ‘painful,’” Horak told the Herald on Friday, the last night until December that it will be legal for bars and restaurants citywide to stay open beyond 11 p.m. “It’s financially painful, it’s emotionally painful.”
As active coronavirus cases skyrocket in Grand Forks County and a local coronavirus risk gauge stays pegged in the “severe” category, Mayor Brandon Bochenski ordered bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, and offsale liquor stores, to close early for the remainder of November . Emergency order 2020-19.4 temporarily amends city code to prevent businesses with liquor licenses from staying open past 11 p.m. between Saturday, Nov. 7 and the wee hours of Tuesday, Dec. 1. It’s fundamentally the same as one Bochenski issued in late August , when many COVID metrics spiked to then-record levels countywide.
Horak said she understood the public health need motivating the mayor’s decision, but is still nervous about the closure order’s effect on her business. She co-owns bar and restaurant Brick and Barley, Level 10 night club, and O’Really’s Irish Pub – all downtown staples. The club and pub attract swathes of college students on weekend nights, and city leaders pinned the August spike in COVID cases on UND students returning to campus and, in turn, Grand Forks’ nightlife.
“This is another step to limit opportunities for the congregation of many different social groups in high exposure environments,” Bochenski is quoted as saying in a news release published by the city shortly after he signed the order Thursday. “Reducing opportunities like this will help slow the spread and reduce the strain on our health care and school systems. Both are critical to keeping our community healthy and our economy going.”
The mayor encouraged Grand Forks residents to patronize area bars and restaurants, which he said have taken on “a disproportionate share of the economic burden for the well-being of the community.”
At Brick and Barley, staff are considering ways to promote the bar’s carryout and third-party delivery options. At O’Really’s and Level 10, they might open earlier to accommodate the mandated closing time.
“There’s no way to see the future, but if we have to do this now,” Horak said, referring to the early closure, “we hope that we don’t have to do it again.”
Bochenski’s power to order early closures stems from an emergency declaration first signed by his predecessor, Mike Brown, and re-upped every few months by Grand Forks City Council members. Grand Forks’ mayor has sweeping powers under such a declaration, but the same isn’t true across the Red River.
In East Grand Forks, city leaders allowed a similar declaration to expire on May 7. But, even if it were still in place, a formal state of emergency would not grant Mayor Steve Gander the same temporary powers Bochenski enjoys in Grand Forks.
That’s why Gander is reportedly following suit with Bochenski, but in a way that carries effectively no legal weight. He’s reportedly asked Eastside bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m. as well, but they’re under no legal obligation to do so.
Gander did not return multiple Herald requests for comment on Thursday after Bochenski announced the Grand Forks order, or Friday before this article’s publication deadline.
Still, at least one East Grand Forks bar is set to close early anyway. The Blue Moose will close at 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, according to co-owner Patrick Boppre. It’s usually open, at least during the COVID-19 pandemic, until midnight on those days and 10 p.m. on weeknights.
Boppre said he expects to lose some business by closing an hour early two nights each week, but the Blue Moose doesn’t see a particularly large number of customers after 11 p.m. anyway. He said he expects a 5% drop in revenue or less.
“Any loss isn’t good,” Boppre said. “But it’s not going to take a big hit for us, personally. ... For us, it was an easy decision just based on the number of cases and helping keep the community safe as possible.”
Justin LaRocque said he’s still deciding whether The Spud Jr., his relatively new East Grand Forks bar and restaurant, will close early. He said he wasn’t sure how much revenue the business would lose by closing at 11, but, like the Blue Moose, LaRocque’s restaurant is only typically open past that time on weekend nights. Employees there are working to decide what they’ll do, LaRocque said Friday morning.
“Saying no to business is not the smart thing to do,” he said with a chuckle. “That’s where our struggle lies.”