Beale Street bars closed beginning Sunday


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Shelby County Health Department directive issued Friday appears to close a loophole that allowed bars on Beale Street to remain open while others were forced to close.

Starting at midnight on Sunday, bars anywhere in Shelby County will have to close unless the business can prove that its annual revenue from food sales isn’t 50% or less than its annual annual revenue from alcohol sales.

The new rule is drawing mixed responses from Beale Street visitors.

“Common sense tells you you sit at a bar, you’re not six feet, you’re not four feet. Hell, you’re not a foot. You’re right on somebody,” said Christopher Mobley.

“I don’t think it’s gonna do anything to stop the spread of it [COVID-19],” said Brian Latture.

A health department directive issued two weeks ago ordered bars and limited service restaurants to close, but Beale Street bars were largely exempt. Because they are located in a historic district, the state allows them to be classified as full-service restaurants without proving that they sell more food than alcohol.

But Friday’s directive will apply to all bars regardless of whether or not they’re also classified as full-service restaurants.

“I don’t see how that makes any sense at all,” said Latture.

“You could catch it from anywhere. You can catch it from work or anywhere, so singling the bars out, no, I don’t think that’s right,” said Bambi Spinks, who’s visiting from Louisiana.

As of Wednesday, the health department says Shelby County had 4,993 active coronavirus cases. Since March, a total of 17,684 have been recorded.

“They got to shut them [bars] down. I mean, they got to close them down that way everything slows down, nobody gets sick,” said Jesus Flores, who’s visiting from Little Rock.

It’s unclear exactly which Beale Street bars would meet the health department’s annual sales requirements to remain open. The Beale Street Merchant’s Association didn’t return WREG’s messages.

The full directive from the health department is available below:

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