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Franklin Billiard Club remains closed due to semantics

Last updated on September 15, 2020

In North Carolina you can play a game of Pool under Phase 2.5, but you cannot play Pool at a Pool Hall. 

In North Carolina you can have a beer or wine at any brewery or winery under Phase 2.5, but you cannot have a drink at a bar. 

In North Carolina you can have a beer at a bar that is in a restaurant under Phase 2.5, but can’t have a pretzel at a bar. 

In North Carolina you can open as a private club under Phase 2.5, but not a private club that is a bar.

Facilities permitted as private bars in North Carolina, such as Franklin Billiard Club were hopeful that Governor Roy Cooper would allow bars to open under Executive Order Phase 2.5, however that was not the case.

With bars being one of the last businesses in the state to still be closed since the first lockdown order was issued in March, the question as to why they are closed and by whose recommendation is on the top of everyone’s minds.

North Carolina Secretary of Public Health Dr. Mandy Cohen said last week that she and Governor Roy Cooper want to ease restrictions in regards to bars, however she said the weekly report from the White House continues to recommend keeping bars closed.

“Bar situations are one of the most high risk. Part of that is because it is by nature a gathering point and you also to drink you need to take off your mask so it is really a challenging part of having the high level of virus spread,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the White House’s criteria for its three-phase plan, North Carolina is still considered to be in Phase One of reopening per President Trump’s criteria, and under Phase One, Bars are closed. However, Phase 2 of President Trump’s reopening guidelines allows bars to open, and North Carolina is on the brink of moving into Phase 2 according to the President’s criteria.

The issue isn’t necessarily the setting of a bar or the definition or the permits assigned to businesses, it really all comes down to semantics.

Amy Ellis with the State Office of Communications stated that Phase 2.5 specifically says that pool halls, billiard parlors, and billiard rooms are all closed under the current Executive Order which restricts certain entertainment venues from opening. However, amateur sports are permitted to continue and the American Pool Association is recognized nationally as an amateur sport. So while pool halls are closed, Ellis said that the actual practice of playing sport is permitted.

“The pool club is welcome to take its operations elsewhere to a facility currently permitted to operate, subject to any requirements on that facility,” said Ellis. Which has occurred with some leagues across the state holding tournaments outside or in large warehouses.

Pool Halls or Billiard Rooms are likely closed under Phase 2.5 because most are permitted as a private bar, which comes down to another issue of semantics.

A bar permitted as a Private Club such as an American Legion or a Country Club that serves alcohol can currently operate under Phase 2.5 however a pool hall permitted as a Private Bar, cannot.

Public Information Officer with the Alcohol Law Enforcement Division of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety said that while Private Clubs can operate, Private Bars cannot.

“A private bar and a private club, while similar, are not interchangeable. Franklin Billiard Club has on-premise malt beverage, unfortified wine, and mixed beverage private bar permits. Businesses operating as private bars have been prohibited from re-opening under Phase 2.”

North Carolina General Statute defines a Private Bar vs a Private Club as follows:

Private bar. – An establishment that is organized and operated as a for-profit entity and that is not open to the general public but is open only to the members of the organization and their bona fide guests for the purpose of allowing its members and their guests to socialize and engage in recreation.

Private club. – An establishment that qualifies under Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code, as amended, 26 U.S.C. § 501(c), and that has been in operation for a minimum of 12 months prior to application for an ABC permit.

While the state’s ALE guidelines define Franklin Billiard Club as a Private Bar – its only because there isn’t a category for something like a Pool Hall.

Franklin Billiard Club provides food but doesn’t have a kitchen so it isn’t a restaurant. It offers concessions that can be made without needing a health inspection. And while they do serve alcohol, the business doesn’t have a bar you can visit and sit down at, like a brewery or winery, which are currently permitted to open.

However, because the majority of revenue from the business ends up being alcohol sales, as pool games cost $1 vs the couple of dollars needed to purchase a drink, the business must remain close.

The Executive Order 141 defines bars as:

Section 1. Definitions. In this Executive Order: 1. “Bars” means establishments that are not eating establishments or restaurants as defined in N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 18B-100(2) and 18B-100(6), that have a permit to sell alcoholic beverages for onsite consumption under N .C. Gen. Stat. § 18B-1001, and that are principally engaged in the business of selling alcoholic beverages for onsite consumption.

Despite the businesses’ focus being to play pool, which is allowed to occur under Phase 2.5, and although they have extensive safety measures and protocols in place and even prevents social gatherings seen at breweries, the state has refused to allow them to open.

While states across the US vary on reopening plans – the majority of states have most commonly kept bars closed due to the increased probability of spreading COVID19. States such as Florida that allowed Bars to reopen early ended up closing bars back down after a surge of COVID19 cases were identified.

 

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