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'It's the biggest sigh of relief' | Bars can open at 30 percent capacity under Governor Cooper's latest executive order

On Friday, bars and other venues can partially reopen, after Governor Cooper announced the easing of restrictions.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The pandemic hit our state's economy hard. Some of the stats from the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) are sobering. 

11 percent of our workforce is in the leisure and hospitality industry. Of that group, 75 percent lost their jobs in the last year. In all, sales for hotels, restaurants and bars dropped $4.5 billion in 2020.

It's a massive amount of money, and every one of those dollars means something to local business owners, and their families.

RELATED: Gov. Cooper lifts stay-at-home order, eases some restrictions for bars and outdoor venues

On Wednesday, they finally got some good news: bars can start serving customers indoors, up to 30 percent capacity.

"I mean it nearly killed our business to be honest," said Seth Mapes, owner of the Bearded Goat in downtown Greensboro, "I think that...I am such an optimist, and I kept saying to myself we're going to get through it, we're going to get through it."

It took a while to get through it, to see a glimmer of hope - an easing of restrictions. 

"I'm still kind of shocked about it, but I'm so stoked," he said, "I mean, it's the biggest sigh of the relief."

His downtown location will open next week, on Thursday, March 4th, after essentially being closed for a year. He's taking the next week to make sure all COVID-19 precautions are in place before he opens his doors. 

"I think that [bars have] been you know pushed aside for long enough and 30 percent is 30 percent - and we'll take what we get at this point," Mapes said, "If it was 20 percent, I would be opening back up. Anything is better than what we've had for sure."

"The hard, cold reality is - a lot of businesses have struggled, and they've tried to recoup a little bit of lost revenue but it's been a tough year," said Lynn Minges, President and CEO of the NCRLA. 

The combination of loosened restrictions, declining COVID numbers, and vaccines gives her a true sense of hope. 

"That is going to be a game changer. I think we're all going to feel more comfortable and see the numbers continue to decrease," she said.