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Struggling bar owners say Ohio's extended curfew is just another punch they'll have to roll with

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Posted at 11:10 PM, Jan 21, 2021

CINCINNATI — Tri-State bar owners are struggling through the winter months amid social distancing rules during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re so used to rolling with the punches. You take yourself back to where were we a year ago,” Lost & Found co-owner Camilo Otalora said. “Now we’re just trying to survive week to week. It’s just a different mindset.”

Gov. Mike DeWine extended Ohio’s 10 p.m. curfew at his Thursday news conference, which dealt another blow to these businesses by forcing them to close during what would normally be their busiest hours.

Chris Breeden is the new owner of Cincinnati’s oldest bar, Arnold’s Bar and Grill. The iconic establishment has been operating since 1861 – this year is its 160th anniversary.

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“Arnold’s has survived the Civil War, Prohibition, two pandemics, riots in every century, just about anything you can think of, Arnold’s has been through it,” he said.

Breeden said sales are down, and coupled with the extended curfew, Arnold’s has lost a lot of business.

“We’re down 66%,” he said. “We came to the realization that it’s going to be that way. We tightened our belt, and we’re floating through.”

Over-The-Rhine’s Lost & Found is one of the newest bars in town.

“Disappointed but not surprised,” Otalora said. “At this point, part of it is nihilism. You’re like, ‘cool.’ We’ll roll with every punch. A new thing gets thrown at us every week. You just roll with it.”

The latest punch is a big hit to the business.

“We’re talking about a model where the lion’s share of the profits happens between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. on two days a week,” Otalora said. “All the sudden, you’re knee-capping that. That’s really challenging.”

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He said the bar has had to think creatively to come up with new revenue streams – like the ‘booze box,’ which contains all the fixings you’d need to make a cocktail at home.

“It’s a band-aid on a bullet hole,” he said. “A bullet wound. It helps, right? Every little bit helps. Between booze box, it closes the gap by 30% versus not having it at all.”

Otalora said he isn’t upset by the governor’s decision for a curfew extension, but he said it’s frustrating when he knows they’re following the guidelines put forth by the CDC. The bottom line for Lost & Found and many other establishments across the state is – they’re going to need help.

“There’s been since the pandemic, two times we were less than a month away from running out of cash,” Otalora said. “Before getting another source of funding.”

Both bar owners said the goal right now is simple: tread water now, and hope to survive to see the other side of the pandemic.