Czar's 505 uncertain about future after continued COVID-19 restrictions

NOW: Czar’s 505 uncertain about future after continued COVID-19 restrictions


ST. JOSEPH, Mich. -- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has tightened restrictions on bars, announcing that indoor service would close in northern Michigan – in addition to already being closed in the rest of the state – starting Friday, July 31.  

Gov. Whitmer’s latest executive order brings northern Michigan under the same restrictions as the rest of the state despite those regions – labeled Regions 6 and 8 under the MI Safe Start Plan – being in Phase 5. These guidelines include that any bar which makes more than 70 percent of its revenue from alcohol sales must close indoor service.

Czar’s 505 in St. Joseph has been known for its live music and retro atmosphere for 28 years, but they haven’t been able to open in any capacity since March and the latest order has signified to the owner that Czar’s won’t be reopening any time soon.

“We renovated this with my father in 1988 and Czar’s opened in 1992 and we’ve been open since then until March 16 of this year,” said owner Tom Jennings.

After learning they’d have to close when the pandemic hit, Jennings figured it’d just be a few weeks before his bar could reopen. Now – it’s four months later.

For a spot like Czar’s, which doesn’t sell any food or have outdoor access, they’re left with no options.

“We weren’t in a position to do to-go food here it doesn’t make sense, I’ve got restaurants right above us – we’re not in the food business,” said Jennings. “Czar’s is not viable right now and we have no money coming in to pay rent.”

Even for bars and restaurants that do earn enough revenue from food sales to be open, businesses have had a hard time navigating all of the Governor’s orders.

“Michigan has issued one and a half times more than New York and California combined and business owners have had to scour these resources to figure out what affects them, how it affects them and how they can be in compliance,” said Arthur Havlicek, President/CEO of the Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber.

Havlicek also said he’d like to see these decisions made more at the local level moving forward.

“Our Berrien County Health Department has been phenomenal in handling this pandemic and the stage we’re currently in, we really have zeroed in on where this spread events are occurring and we can start making decisions based on that information and that would keep restaurants open,” said Havlicek.

As for Czar’s — the future is completely unknown.

“It would break my heart if we couldn’t reopen the club,” said Jennings. “Certainly I’ve had great times down here and met a lot of great people and great friends and I’d hate to see it end.”

The Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Administration has also announced they will be conducting random and referral-based inspections on businesses to see if they are complying with all COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Businesses found in violation could face up to a $7,000 fine.

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