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Cedar Rapids bar reopens, then closes again, as COVID cases rise in Linn County

Published: Jul. 2, 2020 at 9:48 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - As restaurants along 1st Avenue East in Cedar Rapids post signs to advertise that they’re open, one bar on the busy road is already closed back up for now.

“The stress and the anxiety and just the fear of getting people sick and going home and getting somebody else sick — we just decided here that we’re just going to take a couple weeks off,” said Andrew Harrison, the owner of Belle’s Basix, which temporarily closed again on June 25 in response to an increase of coronavirus cases in Linn County.

While customers aren’t allowed inside the bar, for now, Harrison’s efforts to keep them safe when Basix — Cedar Rapids’ only LGBTQ bar — reopened June 1 are still present, including the plastic shower curtains hanging to partition groups sitting near each other and the hand sanitizer bottles resting on each table.

During the four weeks, the bar was reopened, Basix staff were required to wear face coverings, and customers were encouraged, but not required, to do the same, though Harrison noted that’s difficult in a bar or restaurant.

“Most everybody adhered to the rules and stuff, but we had people come in that decided that, ‘We’re not going to follow the rules,’ and you mix alcohol and the rules, and it’s kind of a bad situation,” Harrison said.

At a news conference Wednesday, Linn County Public Health Clinic Services Branch Supervisor Heather Meador said one of the reasons behind the recent uptick in cases has been young people going to bars and not social distancing or wearing masks.

“This marathon has not come to an end,” Meador said. “We need to put some of our wants and our desires aside to protect our families and community.”

So Harrison is putting aside his want to keep his bar open.

“There’s eight gay bars in Iowa. Five of us decided to close down together,” Harrison said, adding that Studio 13 in Iowa City is among those five bars. “We don’t want to be part of the problem here. We want to be part of the solution.”

Harrison said while Basix got through the first closure period thanks to community fundraisers, he expects that money to get tight as bills keep coming.

Basix has also posted information on its Facebook page for people who want to donate money to help its staff and entertainers.

“It’s about 20 people that depend on this bar being open for some of their income, if not all of it,” Harrison said.

But he doesn’t question his choice to close back down for now and hopes customers feel the same.

“They understand that it’s probably not a good idea to come out, mingle, get together, and it’s just — it’s for the best,” Harrison said.

In the meantime, Harrison plans to stay busy, as he did during the first shutdown by deep cleaning and repainting parts of the bar. This time, Harrison said he’s working with groups like the Iowa Black Drag Council to promote a more inclusive environment at bars, and he’s also planning to build a temporary patio in the Basix parking lot to help with social distancing when the bar reopens.

But Harrison doesn’t know when that reopening will happen, though he said this closure is temporary.

“I don’t like question marks, but it’s a question mark, and it’s a big question mark,” he said of the uncertainty of the bar’s future. “And until it’s a period, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Copyright 2020 KCRG. All rights reserved.

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