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What It’s Like To Open A Bar In Columbus 30 Days Before COVID-19 Took Off

Life is unpredictable, as many of us have been reminded and been forced to adapt to new circumstances.

2020 started strong for a lot of people — new jobs, new homes, new businesses. Then, COVID-19 brought life as we knew it to a grinding halt. For some, they had just gotten started — a strong start even, only for a promising start to be thrown into an uncertain and terrifying future.

One southside bar opened in mid-February, only for the Ohio “Stay-at-home” mandate to take effect 30 days later, closing all non-essential businesses. Daddy’s, started by Columbus native Scotty Niemet is that bar. At Daddy’s, he created a space that aims to bring a new perspective to Columbus’ nightlife scene.

“I wanted Daddy’s to be a new alternative angle in Columbus for what a queer space could be. More focus on DJ and dance party culture, where the crowd is diverse and dynamic,” Says Niemet.

At Daddy’s, you’ll find less of an emphasis on top 40 tracks, or traditional Rupaul’s Drag Race style drag performer looks. Here, for example, you’d be more likely to find a local DJ performing their new house music or industrial electronic tracks.

Maybe you’d find an alternative drag performer, whose aesthetic is less about being pretty — but more about making an impact or being particularly striking to look at. The bar’s dark interior with intimate lighting and risque hand-drawn illustrations set a mood unlike many other bars in the city.

Although considered to be an LGBTQ bar, it has events with music not often played at other bars and its featured entertainers and DJs bring people of all kinds to Daddy’s.

After a very strong late February and early March, Daddy’s, like most other nightlife spaces, has been forced to close. Although the bar had a strong start — it is a new bar, still finding its footing and space in the Columbus scene. It can be incredibly tricky to maintain a business without a nationwide shutdown and pandemic.

“It’s been really scary, [and I am] hoping we can stay afloat while shut down. I have been applying to some support funding,” Niemet says.

The US Government has offered a new loan program in the recently-passed stimulus bill. Whether or not this is adequate for all small businesses affected by the outbreak, remains to be seen.
As far as the right now, Niemet and his staff have been prepping to whether the storm and cut expenses as much as they can.

“We did an inventory of beers and have a distributor that will buy back stuff,” says Niemet. “We did start a merch shop online where we have shirts, hoodies, candles, and people can pay forward for a bar tab.”

Scotty is trying to keep his staff with some form of income at this time — he hopes to take the profit from the merch sales and give it directly to the staff.

Still, there are logistical concerns with the relief and support offered for small businesses. Although there is a 90-day commercial rent moratorium for small businesses, it did not go into effect until April 1st. Thus, he had to pay the rent for a business that currently has no income. Even the small business government loans seem daunting- all of these directives are new, and Niemet is unsure if his bar qualifies for assistance. Many of the systems meant to help small businesses are overwhelmed at the moment, so getting help and asking questions may take time — time waiting on income. However, Daddy’s has only been open 30 days, and thus any sort of assistance may prove to be more finicky to get compared to a more established business.

“The thing that worries me with us only being open a month, is we don’t have any financial info to really go off of,” Scotty says.

Despite not being able to operate, Scotty continues to learn. He’s using this downtime to refine his bar experience. “I’m attempting to get a lot of things more organized and corrected with bar things. Such as event planning and promo. And just things that we have observed that we can do better to serve our clients,” he says.

The closure of non-essential businesses affects all nightlife and service industry workers. But, it can tend to hit LGBTQ spaces harder, since they’ve historically been such an important part of the community. Many performers and employees rely on income from these spaces. Many patrons feel as if these spaces are the few safe spaces where they can relax and be themselves without the threat of abuse related to gender identity or sexuality.

But, as of right now, gatherings of 10 or more have been effectively banned. “Social distancing” seems to be our new reality for now with no immediate end in sight. Many people are nervous, as they ask if their beloved bars and nightlife spaces ever return? If they do return, how will they change, if they change at all?

Scotty remains optimistic that when the Coronavirus pandemic dies down, people will be eager to get back out to spaces like his.

“I think we will all do ok once we are up and rolling. People are gonna want to make up for lost social time. We opened during the slow bar season and we did so great. So once it’s warm and people want to go back out safely. I think we can keep the patrons coming in and dancing,” he says.

Scotty also has high hopes for a more connected LGBTQ community after COVID-19 subsides.

“I hope once the bars open back up people will have a more empathetic view of the importance of queer spaces. And we need to uplift queer bars because this is hitting us really bad,” he says.

As more people seem to get restless, hopefully for everyone’s sake this all subsides and we can all get back to supporting our local small businesses.

Daddy’s is located at the edge of Merion Village, on the corner of Parsons Avenue and Stewart Avenue.