Association warns Florida craft breweries face ruin, putting 10,000 jobs at risk

By John Haughey
The Center Square
July 23, 2020

(The Center Square) – More than 100 craft breweries could be forced to shut their doors permanently, sending 10,000 workers into the swelling ranks of the unemployed, unless they are allowed to fully reopen soon, Florida’s largest brewery association warned.

In an open letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) Secretary Halsey Beshears posted on Facebook, the Florida Brewers Guild (FBG) said restricting operations to “to-go only” is unsustainable for the state’s 320 “brew pubs.”

“The health of our community is paramount, but it cannot be at the life savings of hundreds of entrepreneurs, the livelihood of thousands of families, and the majority of an entire industry,” the letter read. “We will work with your administration in any way, but we MUST find a way to put our people back to work. Please help us put together a plan that safely re-opens our industry.”

DeSantis ordered all bars and restaurants closed in late March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On June 5, under his three-phase reopening plan, which remains in phase one, bars that don’t serve food were among the last businesses allowed to reopen at 50 percent interior capacity.

As a resurgent COVID-19 wave swept through the state in mid-June, Beshears on June 26 again ordered bars that don’t serve food to shut down, citing “widespread noncompliance” with coronavirus guidelines, mostly by young adults.

The order closed about 3,300 “bars, taverns, pubs, lounges, nightclubs and other drinking places” that employ nearly 25,000 people and generate $2 billion in annual revenue, according to industry researcher IbisWorld.

Under Beshears’ original order, craft breweries were granted an exemption for on-premise consumption if partnered with a food truck. An ensuing amended order nixed that exemption.

Since then, DeSantis and Beshears have expressed sympathy for the state’s bar owners but have remained adamant they will not be reopened until Florida’s COVID-19 surge is contained.

“Nothing I say or do will stop the pain small business owners are feeling,” Beshears tweeted in late June. “I empathize & understand, I’ve been there. It’s more then u: it’s your employees & the families they support. I’ll keep taking the hate, if it makes any of you feel better.”

“Status quo,” DeSantis said in mid-July. “As we get in a more stable situation, then we’ll take a look at it.”

In a Facebook post, FBG said, “Right now, our options are limited, and many of you are taking the step of getting a food license for your brewery so you can be open for on-premise consumption.”

But for those that can’t, “We are not done fighting, however. And we need your help to amplify the signal. By our estimates, the collective audience of all of Florida’s breweries (via email and social media) is over 1 million people. We want everyone to hear our message.”

The post encourages members and “fans” to post its letter to DeSantis and Beshears twice this week, including Thursday at 11:30 a.m.

In its open letter, FBG maintains 90 percent of Florida’s retail breweries have been closed more days then they’ve been open this year, and to-go sales constitute less than 10 percent of their sales.

“This is an untenable model for our industry,” the letter read. “The Florida Craft Brewing Industry is a manufacturing industry first and retail second. But one cannot exist without the other.”

FBG said craft breweries are designed differently than typical bars and nightclubs, often with airy open spaces, and they “primarily serve our fans between noon and 8PM.”

“We need your help,” FBG implored. “The entire Florida Craft Brewing Industry is now in jeopardy.”

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