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Taking the Edge Off: Bartenders and other industry workers discuss the coronavirus

Whether you are out on the front lines, working from home, out of work or quarantining, these times are uncertain for all of us. Small businesses across the country and particularly here in Rhode Island are doing what they can to carry out business where possible, while keeping up with government issued guidelines. Luckily for us, in a time where we could all use something to take the edge off, some of the state’s favorite breweries and restaurants have found a way to deliver … literally. However not every business is so fortunate. I’ve caught up with some colleagues in the industry who were willing to share their personal journey surrounding the coronavirus and its effects on their livelihood.

If you’ve never spent a sunny Saturday getting sunburned out on Hot Club’s patio, you’re missing out. The waterfront bar has been a hub for socialization in PVD for more than 35 years. If there’s any such thing as a “townie bar” in the middle of an urban city, Hot Club is it. Unfortunately, social distancing has left the bustling bar with no choice but to close temporarily, resulting in temporary job loss for the bar’s loyal employees.

“Bartenders and industry workers are taking a hit on another level. I use my money I make (at Hot Club) as my grocery money and on-hand cash. Now a week and a half in, I’m laid off from my full-time job and it is really starting to sink in how terrifying this all is,” says Abbi Booth, a bartender at Hot Club for more than seven years. However, management is doing all they can to take care of their staff during this time. Booth says that her manager has personally offered assistance to all employees, and has encouraged everyone to apply for unemployment for the time being. “I don’t think there has been a day where our Hot Club group chat has been silent,” Booth adds. “N ow more than ever we’ve become so close and communicative with one another.” 

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Although times are tough now, Abbi remains positive. “We’re looking forward to opening again and celebrating with our co-workers and customers.” Abbie even recalls my own dad’s signature drink, “Wish I could give him a Coors!”

While it’s been hard to find good news these days, Governor Raimondo offered a glimmer of hope for service industry workers last week by issuing an order that allows RI bars and restaurants to sell beer and wine with takeout orders. This is great news for Jamie Buscher, brand manager at Craft Collective, one of New England’s top craft beer distributors. “The shutdown hit the food and entertainment industry in Rhode Island hard, and no institution in the supply chain was spared,” says Buscher. “We distribute craft beer and wine to restaurants and bars throughout Rhode Island, and anecdotally, this order is providing significant relief to not only our customers, but our suppliers as well.” Suppliers being independently owned breweries that rely on restaurants and bars to offer their beer on tap. These breweries now continue to have the opportunity to send cases of beer to be enjoyed with takeout. Buscher adds that Craft Collective serves both Massachusetts and Maine in addition to Rhode Island. “We hope that both states will follow RI’s lead.”

One of the many brands Craft Collective represents is Finback Brewing out of Queens, New York. I was recently in touch with Niko Krommydas of Finback — originally to cover the event “Whale Watching” — a beer festival to be held in Providence by Finback, which also welcomed 40+ breweries and vendors from the area. Of course, the event is postponed and according to Krommydas is “Absolutely rescheduling.” For now, Finback is lucky enough to — like Rhode Island breweries — provide curbside pick-up and deliveries. Finback has a location in Brooklyn that has yet to open to the public; however, they are currently using the space for can sales. “We have the chance to meet the neighborhood and give them a taste of what’s to come,” says Krommydas. 

“Banding together really makes it easier to deal with this mess,” he continues. And it’s clear that many of us share the same attitude. Patience is key during these trying times, and while it’s hard to visualize, we will inevitably be able to once again toast to good friends and good times.

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