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Area bar owners, workers, surviving during pandemic difficult

The staff and owners of Monongalia County’s bars are asking for Gov. Jim Justice’s help.

“It’s been pretty terrible,” said Ashley Murray, a bartender at Baby Squirrels Saloon. “Not just for me but for everyone in the industry.”

Not being able to go to work, see friends or control her financial status have also been emotionally and mentally draining, Murray said.

“I feel like I don’t have any control over my life,” she said.

Murray said her landlord has been “great,” but that her boyfriend also works in the industry and eviction is in the back of their minds and could become a real worry if the shutdown continues.

Some people have already faced that reality.

Zach Traugh, owner of Big Times and Code Nightclub, said he has two employees staying with him because they couldn’t afford rent.

Traugh is also the manager of the Morgantown Retailers Association.

“What we’re looking for is to be able to pay staff the average of what they made weekly so they can afford to pay their rent,” Traugh said. “The individual businesses have different needs.”

He said owners of other businesses he’s spoken to are willing to show proof of what amount of assistance is needed and each business doesn’t need to get the same amount of money.

“We’re all just trying to make it,” Traugh said.

Murray questioned why the initial six-week shutdown lasted so long. Even as cases in the county decreased, the bars remained closed.

“And that’s when I really started to get frustrated,” she said. “I think we should have been given the opportunity then to open and try to enforce the rules and do what we could to keep everyone safe. Instead [Justice] waited until students were back to reopen. It’s setting us up for failure.”

Murray said she wouldn’t have much of an issue with being closed if there was financial assistance from the governor.

“Why isn’t he sending some of this money down to help us?” she asked.

Traugh estimated the downtown bars employ about 500 people. Personally, he employs around 100.

This most recent shutdown also came right during the peak of business for the downtown bars. As much money is made between Aug. 15 and the end of September as in November and December combined, Traugh said.

In total, there are about 28 good weeks a year and the rest are about hanging on and maintaining, Traugh said.

“Those weeks let you stay open all year,” he said. “We’re not looking to make a windfall, “We’re looking to maintain a semblance of normalcy so when things get normal, we can go back to work immediately and not have to rehire and restaff and retrain.”

Murray said she thinks the industry has been unfairly targeted in the county, particularly downtown bars.

“I don’t know how much the governor has left from [the CARES Act] but he could send some financial relief to the very small targeted industry in one county,” she said. “It’s not like he’s got bars closed all across the state and other businesses as well.”

She hopes people are understanding of what the service industry is going through and said she isn’t trying to come across as selfish or inconsiderate of what’s going on.

“We just want to be able to go to work and support ourselves and support our families also and do the best that we can,” Murray said.