NCBATA Ruling Cooper’s Bar Shutdowns Violated Constitution

Pour one out for COVID—and pour it up for NC’s bars.

The NC Bar and Tavern Association cheers the recent Appeals Court ruling as NC’s private bars and taverns finally have cause to celebrate. A long time coming, the court ruled the “science and data” put forth by the governor did not support forcing private bars to remain shuttered for an entire year because, as the state argued, they were “more likely to spread COVID,” while 6,000+ restaurant bars, wineries, breweries and hotel bars were allowed to reopen.

At the time, private bars had no protection—or association—like that of their restaurant/hospitality peers. Enter longtime bar owner Zack Medford—aka “Mayor Medford” for his vast efforts—who began a bar association and was a driving force to galvanize the movement locally, lobbying for bars and taverns, and organizing electrifying rallies. 

“North Carolina’s Constitution provides for equal treatment under the law, and we didn’t receive it. … Bar owners paid that terrible price, and we are still a long way from ever recovering.”

 —Zack Medford, NCBATA President  

Fast-forward to June 4, 2020, NCBATA filed a lawsuit on behalf of the 185 businesses to reopen under the same rules as restaurant bars. Of those 185, 168 remained in the case during the appeal.

“It’s a bittersweet victory,” says NCBATA President Zack Medford. “We are celebrating the win, but I just wish it never would’ve been necessary to involve the courts in the first place.” If Gov. Cooper had reopened private bars and taverns alongside restaurant bars, breweries and hotel bars, “then many bars like Coglin’s Raleigh and Isaac Hunter’s Tavern might still be around,” he mourns. “Instead, hundreds of small business owners across the state lost their life savings, their bars and their way of life because the governor deemed it safe to drink a beer sitting at a restaurant’s bar, but unsafe to drink that same beer sitting at a tavern.”

As for what’s next, the case will return to trial court, where Medford hopes damages are afforded to the state’s private bar owners. “While the court can’t go back in time and give bars the same opportunity the governor gave restaurants, the court can asseses monetary damages for these small businesses owners,” he maintains. “For many of us, it will be too little too late—but these operators at least deserve some kind of financial relief from the state.” Let’s hope the cause for cheers continues.

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Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.