It would figure that the reliably highbrow Brookings Institution, whose pretense is self-evident by way of appellation, would assign nomenclature to the role establishments such as bars play in their communities.
Brookings calls them “third places,” borrowing the term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in referring to those sites between home, “first places,” and work, “second places,” where people gather to “exchange ideas, have a good time and build relationships.” Such places include churches, parks, recreation centers, hairdressers, gyms and even fast-food joints.
Or they can be those splendid places known across the pond as pubs, short for “public houses,” where the world’s problems are resolved over beer or liquor amid loud talking and raucous laughter.
Restaurants, bars and other staples have been battered. A group of restaurateurs who gathered in Charleston to discuss their plight with Gazette-Mail Features Editor Maria Young estimated revenue losses of 40% to 60%.
Gov. Jim Justice cites economic and business impact in his decision to allow bars and restaurants to remain open for outdoor dining even as establishments are being ordered closed in neighboring states. Business owners say that is not enough.
“I truly believe the governor and some in his administration do not understand that in the winter, sales traditionally drop off anyway,” Huntington bar owner Jeff McKay told a Herald-Dispatch reporter. “I hope, given the situation, there is a little more empathy from the state.”
He referred to the $5,000 small business grants the governor extended from $1.27 billion in federal coronavirus relief money.
“They think they offered $5,000 from CARES Act and permitted outdoor dining, so they wash their hands of it and say they did what they could,” McKay said.
That point is salient. Thinking a $5,000 grant could help businesses sustain themselves for more than a passing moment is like thinking a speeding freight train can be stopped with papier-mâché.
Of course, businesses are not alone in being dealt shots to the midsection. Workers at these places are dealt a double whammy. Their incomes largely are derived from tips. This frequently translates to a limited capacity to collect unemployment. So now their incomes are depleted and they can’t rely on benefits to cover the difference.
Matters, which seemingly could not get worse, are worsening. Many business owners are wondering whether their establishments can survive. This leads us back to Brookings and those “third places.”
Losing some of the many places that serve, in the words of Brookings, as community builders in this town and others throughout West Virginia will signal further community erosion. These “third places” not only are a vital part of economic life in their towns. They are part of the community fabric.
These places and those who work there need and deserve the kind of protection federal CARES Act money was intended to provide. The governor and his administration need to awaken to the realities McKay and other business owners say he does not evidently understand. Hundreds of millions of dollars in CARES Act money is sitting gathering dust. Justice needs to open the purse strings and give these places and their workers help to make it through these difficult days. The time to do so is now.