• Hamilton Riley

A Man Walks Into A Brewery...

Stop me if you have heard this one before. It's a common beginning to one of the older joke tropes, but in today's climate, it represents something completely new. Surprisingly, Virginia has been rolling out it's re-opening phases, and last week, what has been dubbed as 'Phase 3' began in my area. While most breweries and restaurants were allow patrons starting of some sort starting with the first phase, this was the boldest move so far short of full opening. Just want to share a few thoughts about the experience and what it will mean for the next few months.

To put things in perspective for a moment, I believe Virginia has been an interesting case study in all of this. While there are some extremely dense populations in Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Northern Virginia, there are a lot of rural areas as well. When it was announced that only Richmond and Northern Virginia were going to be held back a while, they neglected Hampton Roads. It's not as dense, but a very similar situation of commuting from end to end. And while it seems the curve is mostly flattening, cases in RVA and NOVA are going down, while HR is going up. Not helping the situation has been the fact that Phase 2 and Phase 3 occurred right before Memorial Day and Independence Day, respectively. Still, for a southern state, cases are low and mask usage has been very decent.

With this information, and even with Phase 3 allowing places to open up to a workable capacity, it is still a decision by breweries on how to open, if at all. I will say that the numbers holding back has dropped to next to zero, but how they are opening is still a grab bag. Reduced seating, no bar area, and masks outside of your tables are common place now and are generally followed. All that in mind, I made the decision to step out of the bubble for a day and have a beer at one of the breweries in the area.

I didn't go at a peak time. The mid-afternoon on a Sunday crowd is not the most rambunctious, it's actually quite the opposite. Most people are just looking to relax a little, and combine it with the day after 4th of July, it was a very subdued setting. Tables were a little more spread out than normal and bar seats had been taken off the floor mounted stools. I guess you could have ventured to them, but I would think a new set of problems would occur. The larger areas of games were moved around to allow for more social distancing seating and 2 Plexiglas shields were set up at the bar to take orders. On the whole, everyone stuck to the 'if you get up out of your seat, put on your mask', which was refreshing. It was a time to catch up with some friends and then head out.

That experience was better than I thought, but still not 'normal'. It had nothing to do with the beer or the location, it was just fine. Part of me yearns for the days when you can step into a place and not have to calculate the number of people in there and not have to have a moment of ethical consciousness. Part of me looks at what I would consider a decent amount of people and wonder how many more people they would put in there, especially on peak nights and weekends. Part of me runs the numbers and still can't see where places can still make a profit and who will not make through this. I've said this before, the impact of the outbreak for restaurants and breweries isn't a bang, it's a long fuse.

I'm not trying to be a Debbie Downer in all of this, I enjoyed seeing some of my friends and having a beer and some tacos not on my couch or office desk. I think we are getting there, but there is still a little ways to go. Keep up with social distancing and wearing masks, and hopefully we can pull through this soon.

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