New COVID-19 restrictions take a toll on South Mississippi bars

Gilligan's bar in Gulfport, MS deals with new COVID-19 changes.
Gilligan's bar in Gulfport, MS deals with new COVID-19 changes.(Andres Fuentes)
Updated: Jul. 27, 2020 at 9:39 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Statewide, Mississippi bars dealt with the first weekend after Governor Tate Reeve’s latest COVID-19 restrictions.

The mandates went into effect on July 24, just hours before bars would typically welcome customers after the workweek. The regulations require bars to only serve alcohol to seated guests, and both bars and drinks cannot be served past 11 p.m.

“So we are right back to square one,” said the owner of Gilligan’s, Tori Wilson.

Wilson has been a patron of the neighborhood bar for decades until she purchased it back in 2016. She recorded her best summer and winter seasons back in 2019 and hoped to do the same in 2020.

However, the initial shutdown and restrictions on Mississippi bars had her hands tied, but a recent uptick in business after loosened mandates brought in new hope for her and her employees. Wilson said the latest restrictions shattered that.

“Just last weekend compared to this weekend, [business] was down 75 percent,” she said. “Just when things are starting to get back to normal and I’m trying to tell [the staff] it looks like we’re getting close to where we can get back to normal hours, normal everything, well out comes the bat and you get beat in the head with it.”

The governor’s latest restrictions impact a time frame when bar owners say business is at its peak, especially at Gilligan’s.

“Well, we’re a karaoke bar. We don’t start karaoke until 9 o’clock Friday and Saturday night,” Wilson said. “The bulk of our business is from 10 or 11:30 o’clock night to until 1, 2, 3 in the morning.”

While Wilson and other owners deal with yet another financial hardship, they also feel frustrated that other businesses aren’t dealing with similar guidelines.

“[Health officials] don’t seem to think that the virus goes anywhere else,” she said. “Every other business doesn’t seem to have any extra restrictions. How can you not feel like the bars are being targeted?”

One of the reasons for the new restrictions was to limit crowds.

“Our bars must look more like restaurants and less like mobs of COVID-19 spread,” Governor Tate Reeves said on July 24.

But Wilson feels other businesses are just as dangerous as bars, if not more so.

“I come into more contact with people in the grocery stores and those kinds of businesses than I do at this bar,” she said.

She now wants state leaders to loosen restrictions in order to bring back a sense of normalcy.

Wilson said, “Why is it just the bars? It’s everything is open or everything is closed.”

Copyright 2020 WLOX. All rights reserved.