NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — As the number of COVID-19 cases rises sharply across the country, local governments are cracking down and some business owners are fighting back.
Many, already near bankruptcy, say they’re about to be pushed over the edge by what they call draconian coronavirus restrictions.
One of the most dramatic examples is unfolding in Staten Island, New York, where a bar owner was arrested this week when he refused to stop serving patrons indoors.
For days, protesters and police have been staring each other down outside Mac’s Public House in the New York City borough’s Grant City neighborhood. The section housing the bar has been designated an ‘Orange Zone’ by the state for a high number of positive COVID-19 tests, and the activity around the tavern that peaked Wednesday night will have done nothing to bring that number down.
Hundreds of mask-less protesters filled the street, chanting, singing, and screaming at police while waving American flags. Many were from surrounding boroughs, some from out of state, all said they had had enough of government-imposed restrictions.
“They are using this virus,” protester Tina Forte told NewsNation. “They’re using it to take power and control over us. They have us by the throats. They’re choking the small businesses— the heart of America.”
The attorney for the owners of Mac’s Public House, Louis Gelormino, points to what he believes is the uneven imposition of rules affecting restaurants in New York State.
“You can’t just unilaterally shut down our business when you can eat across the street,” he said. “That’s insane.”
For months similar, if smaller, protests have been popping up across the country. At a maskless gathering of small business owners and their supporters last month in Rochester, New York, a protester told NewsNation affiliate WROC, “We don’t need politicians telling us what to do to stay healthy.”
An apologetic sign on the door of a diner in Kalamazoo, Michigan reads, ‘Closed. Overwhelmed with patriotism,” the owner decrying the fact that his patrons now dine in northwest Indiana.
“It’s a small place,” he says of his modest establishment. “We sanitize. My cook hasn’t gotten it. Nobody’s gotten it through here.”
On the other side of the coin, a sign in a store window in Wendell, North Carolina indicating masks are not required brought backlash from neighboring business owners.
“It’s not about us,” said one. “It’s about the people we’re around.”Without exception, health experts agree. Many call protests -pro-business or anything else- among the least responsible acts people can engage in at the moment— but the owners of Mac’s and many other establishments say they’re in a fight for their very survival, concerned not just with keeping their businesses open but their families fed.
To some, the tiny Staten Island tavern has become the new face of the business resistance, but by Thursday night the crowd outside had dwindled from hundreds to under a dozen. The police who had surrounded the building were gone and the bar was closed. The owners have lost their liquor license. Reopening could bring a fine of $1000 a day.
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