ActivePaper Archive ‘Bar walk’ protests Allegheny Co. on-site alcohol ban - Mon Valley Independent, 7/2/2020

‘Bar walk’ protests Allegheny Co. on-site alcohol ban

About 30 people marched from bar-to-bar for the Small Business America Keep Our Bars/Clubs Open demonstration.


About 30 people marched through McKeesport Wednesday to show their support for local bars and restaurants and their outrage over Allegheny County’s ban on alcohol consumption inside those businesses. Shown in the front, from left, are Karly Lane of McKeesport and Lauren Martin of Glassport.

Jeff Stitt / Mon Valley Independent


Photos by Jeff Stitt / Mon Valley Independent Above - Shown at the demonstration, from left, are Diane Elias, Brandon Peebly, Joe Lopretto and Jimmy Young, all of McKeesport.


At left - In front of Mellon’s Pub enjoying a take-out drink, are Patti Marshall of McKeesport, Ralph and Georgeann Waggner, former McKeesport residents.

A group of Mon Valley residents walked from bar to bar in McKeesport purchasing to-go drinks Wednesday evening.

But, they weren’t participating in your typical bar crawl. McKeesport residents Karly Lane, manager of Glass-port VFD’s Club 22, and Joe Lopretto, McKeesport Area School District’s board president and a retired city police officer, began utilizing social media earlier this week to call on neighbors and friends to join them for the “Small Business America Keep Our Bars/Clubs Open” demonstration.

They say they’re outraged over an order from Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Health Department Director Dr. Debra L. Bogen that halts on-premises alcohol consumption at bars and restaurants in response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The order began 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“We’re just trying to voice our opinion that we disagree with the order” Lopretto said. “I don’t think (the order) makes any sense. You can go 10 minutes down the road over the Westmore-land County line and spend your money, sit down, have a burger and buy a beer, but you can’t do that here.”

Around 30 demonstrators gathered at Cal’s Cantina on Eden Park Boulevard to purchase alcoholic to-go beverages and drink them in the parking lot before marching along the McKeesport main thoroughfare.

From Cal’s Cantina, the group marched to Mellon’s Pub, also on Eden Park Boulevard, before heading to PJ’s Bar, Hoots Again and Puzzlers Restaurant and Lounge, which are each on Walnut Street. They walked about a mile through the high-traffic area and were accompanied by escorts from McKeesport Police Department and Glassport Volunteer Fire Department. And as they marched, motorists passing by honked their horn and screamed out of their windows in support. Lopretto said he was thrilled a little more than two dozen people marched Wednesday.

“It doesn’t matter how many show up. It’s the gesture and the show of support for our local businesses that matters,” he said. “I just wanted this to be a good, peaceful walk for us to show support.”

Diane Elias, owner of Di’s Cornerstone Diner on Long Run Road, said her restaurant doesn’t sell alcohol, but she wanted to support area small businesses.

“I don’t want to see anyone get sick or see anyone die, but I think they need to rethink these things,” she said as she talked about the county’s order. “You can’t say ‘the count’s up, everybody close up.’

“These bars deserve to be making money. We as bar owners and restaurant owners pay for our licenses. We pay to keep everything safe and clean and it just feels like we are being punished.” She said it’s unfair bars in surrounding counties can remain open.

“They’ve got to rethink what they’re doing because they’re just hurting the county’s revenues by missing out on taxes from sales, and they’re killing small businesses,” she said. “I’m mad. I’m fired up. The county needs to recognize that small businesses are the ones that support our community. We pay our taxes. We support our schools. We support the local athletic teams, the clubs and all the organizations and fundraisers.”

She’s glad her diner is reopened, but admits being closed during the time Allegheny County was in the red and yellow phases of the state’s reopening plan caused her business to take a hit.

“Two months we were closed,” she said. “I lost $100,000 in sales. I know these bars missed out on sales and now they’re going to have to go through it again.”

Karly Lane of McKeesport, one of the event co-organizers, sympathizes with Allegheny County bar owners.

“This kind of hits close to home,” she said, adding that Club 22 — because of Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board green phase regulations — is not allowed to serve to-go beverages because it is a club and doesn’t have the same type of liquor license as a regular bar.

She said Club 22, which raises revenue to support Glassport’s fire department, refilled its inventory when Allegheny County entered the green phase.

“Everything has an expiration date,” she said, adding that the club will likely have to dump much of its product down the drain.

“This is causing us to take a big hit,” she said.

Lynsey Harrison, a cook at Puzzlers who is currently unemployed, wore a Puzzlers T-shirt and carried a sign Wednesday that said “#SHUTDOWNFORWHAT #SAVEOURSPIRITS #SAVEOURCLUB #CLUB22STRONG.”

When asked why she was part of the demonstration, she said, “Because I lost my job.” “This is killing our small businesses,” she said. “Every small business is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Harrison said Puzzlers opened Wednesday evening to sell to-go beverages to demonstrators, but will be closed completely until further notice.

“Due to the recent announcement by the Allegheny County Health Department, which closes all bars and bans the sale of alcohol by restaurants, we unfortunately have made the difficult decision to close our doors until further notice,” Puzzlers said on Facebook Wednesday. “To attempt to stay open with only revenue from the sale of food is not a possibility and to ask our staff to enforce the absurd state and now local guidelines will only cause issues with customers. Just too many hoops to jump through in order to keep a small family business with a great mission to stay open. We want to thank our hard working fantastic staff and all our loyal customers for their continued support. Hope to see all of you very soon!!”

Jimmy Young of McKeesport said he marched Wednesday because he thinks Allegheny County officials are out of line.

“I believe the county has overstepped their concerns for social distancing by shutting these businesses down,” he said.

To follow state laws, protesters on Wednesday did not carry open containers of alcohol in the street as they marched from bar to bar. Many of the protesters did not wear masks while they were outside, but put masks on before entering each establishment.

Julian Calabro, who manages Cal’s Cantina, said times are difficult for bar owners and operators, and added that he and his staff are doing their best to keep themselves and their customers safe from the virus. “We understand the county has to manage an uptick,” he said. “We understand that public officials are dealing with something they really haven’t dealt with before, so the need to have a cautious response and be responsible is absolutely required.

“At the same time though, we do really appreciate the members of the community who do want to come out and help the businesses that have been struggling through the first part of the shut down and now the second one. ...We’re trying to adhere to as many guidelines as possible, but we really appreciate the support from our community.”