Local bar trying to survive COVID-19 shutdown

Nathan Hutchinson/The Register

Richmond Beer House co-owner Jon Gibson fills up a growler for a customer on Thursday. The bar, which is located on Porter Drive, had to stop offering in-person drink sales earlier this week because of an order from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. However, the bar is still open for to-go orders, such as growler and howler fills along with package sales from their cooler.

Richmond Beer House owners Jon Gibson and Matthew Winhold had a big celebration planned for the local bar's two-year anniversary.

It was scheduled for April 11.

And it was set to include a highly anticipated performance by Laid Back Country Picker.

"As of right now, I don't think it's going to happen," Gibson said on Thursday from the empty bar on Porter Drive.

The anniversary party likely won't happen -- and the future of the business is even more uncertain.

Earlier this week, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear ordered all bars and restaurants to cease in-person sales for an unspecified period of time because of the threat of the COVID-19 virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also recommended that no more than 10 people congregate in place at one time.

Those restrictions could turn out to be a death sentence for many family-owned establishments across the state -- like the Richmond Beer House.

"We've got a 50-50 shot," Gibson said. "We are going to fight, but you've got to know where to draw the line. A lot of people aren't going to make it."

Like many small businesses, the Richmond Beer House operates on a relatively small margin.

Gibson and Winhold didn't buy the bar to get rich.

"Matthew and I have yet to take a paycheck out of here," Gibson said. "Our employees get 100% of the tips. We aren't making a lot of money."

Winhold is retired from the military and Gibson was working 16-hour shifts in a factory two years ago.

"We just love the community and we love what we do," Gibson said. "And we did this because we didn't want to work for somebody else anymore."

The news of the state-wide bar/restaurant shutdown, admittedly, hit Gibson and Winhold hard.

At first, they didn't know what to do.

However, they received a much-needed jolt of inspiration and motivation from some of the most important people in their lives.

"We can't give our wives enough credit," said Gibson, whose wife recently gave birth to their first child. "They are strong women. When all this happened, Matthew and I were just sitting here saying, 'What do we do?' His wife just grabbed the phone and starting calling people, saying this and that up and putting out posts on social media. And my wife was doing the same thing. We had to jump in and follow their lead."

Winhold and Gibson -- and their families -- are trying to keep the business up and running as the world waits for the COVID-19 threat to (hopefully) fade away.

The Richmond Beer House is currently offering growler and howler fills on a carry-out basis, along with package sales of bottles and cans from the bar's cooler.

No patrons are allowed to drink or congregate in the establishment.

The beer the bar currently has on tap, in particular, needs to be sold as quickly as possible.

"We've done everything we can to preserve the beer, but if you don't get rid of it, it has (an expiration date)," Gibson said. "We've got to get rid of it."

The Richmond Beer House started offering carryout service on Thursday afternoon. Many of the bar's regular customers showed up to offer financial -- and emotional -- support to Gibson and the rest of the staff as soon as the announcement was made on the bar's social media accounts.

"They are like family. They've really stepped up," Gibson said of the customers. "I know money is tight for everyone. I don't expect anyone to come up here and spend their rent money."

Richmond Beer House will continue to offer carryout service for as long as possible, but the future remains very unsettled for local businesses and many, many people throughout the entire country -- and world.

"In the big picture, we are grains of dust compared to the way this is going to affect others," Gibson said. "Our hearts go out to them."

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