For the past couple of months, I've been a broken record regarding the horrible mess that Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox have left normal Utahns with regarding anything coronavirus-related. I'm sorry, not sorry. I stoutly believe they kowtow to the whims of Donald Trump to the detriment of strong, cohesive local policy—so much so, that when Trump tells Herbert and Cox to "open up!" the visage of such causes the timid among us blush up to the color of my dear grandmother's favorite rouge.
I firmly believe that Herbert and Cox are afraid of their rural Utah base and don't want to trigger anything that will jeopardize their standing among the denim set. Not even if it means some of them must die, too, because "it is what it is." I confidently believe that they are choosing dollars over lives. They tilted in favor of businessperson whispers—too early changed from a cautious course to reopen Utah and set us on a path of growing cases, death counts and uncertainty. I assuredly believe they favor certain business categories over others—the hospitality and tourism industries that pour billions into Utah coffers has been left on the vine to dry, for instance.
When the tab comes due, Herbert and Cox will do what Utah state leaders have always done: They will raise the taxes on alcohol, raise fees and costs for licenses and pass the financial burden back to only those in Utah who consume alcohol. That plan has worked since Prohibition, basically. It may not work this time though since it's been nearly five months past the original two-week "stay safe, stay home" type closures. There is a growing number of operations in the hospitality category that tried to open but could not survive and have now closed.
Others still are not even open. Hankering for a brat and beer at Beer Bar then smoothing it down with a cocktail from the Bar-X right next door? Well, hanker on since neither have turned on their lights. The quaint Patrick's on 200 South is also still closed, suffering the double whammy of fewer bodies working downtown, but also getting zero dollars from the many Salt Palace conventions that have cancelled and which would have occurred just feet from their front door.
Dick n' Dixies, a favorite of Real Salt Lake Fans—plus of very smart people like Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke and bookseller Ken Sanders—is still closed. The Other Place Café next to that is open daily at 9 a.m., but no longer in time for their popular early breakfast since the early breakfast crowd is basically eating cereal at home these days, not driving to work downtown. Hey, here's a Jeopardy! question for you, Gary and Spencer—and the answer is: 2%. The question? What percentage of Goldman Sachs employees have returned to their downtown offices to work? That's right, 2%. T-W-O at the end of June and directed not to exceed 10% by the end of July. Goldman is the crown jewel and perhaps the largest of Salt Lake City's private employers, right? Will those workers want to return to a downtown that is coming to resemble the nearly dead Main Street of 1995, not the vision of 2025?
Some folks are gambling the answer is "yes." The bar known as Quarters is down there fighting on 400 S. Main, literally fighting, for a change in Utah liquor policy that would allow clubs to sell cocktails to go. That's an idea whose time is not only ripe, but welcome. Are you there for them, Gary and Spencer? Will you fight for the industry that helped attract companies like Goldman, in the first place? Or will you wring your hands and let the industry squirm?
Around the corner from Quarters is Alibi—it's a relative newcomer with a tiny space not perfectly suited for social distancing. But they can't just sit there so they're trying to make it work. A few blocks away, the cozy Good Grammar is also open but only for small private functions. Meanwhile, out on Redwood Road the massive Westerner Club faces a different issue. Their problem is opposite of a little place—it has the deserved reputation as one of the liveliest and most fun places in all of Utah. Ever. Can anyone really two-step while social distancing? Is line dancing even permissible?
We can't even begin to measure the lost opportunities at our great venues and halls like Usana, Red Butte, Depot, State Room, Urban Lounge, Sky and Soundwell. None of them are open. They've all been diligent and patient during COVID-19. Therefore, it's a shame that we see an outlier nightspot (as was given some @RobertGehrke love on Twitter) apparently violating all things healthy and respectful during COVID-19—no masks, no crowd restrictions, no social distancing. It should bother no one if all the owners of the clubs and restaurants mentioned above—those who built the industry, sacrificed for years and who continue to pay the price—all gathered round and took a big piss in the foyer of that club.
That's how things go backward in Utah. One place ruins it for all—like the anti-masker at Walmart who begs to be shamed—and the state will come down on the industry, not the culprit. When COVID-19 spreads again, and I stoutly, assuredly, firmly, confidently believe it will, the state will look for a scapegoat. The scapegoat will be the hospitality industry even though it is not the problem in Utah. The state has been useless to them and to all other small businesses. Salt Lake is a lesser city without the neon lights and silverware settings of Utah's hospitality industry. Turn their lights on, Gary! Spencer!
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