AILSA CHANG, HOST:
All right. If you're not vaccinated and you want to grab a drink in San Francisco tonight, you could be out of luck. With the delta variant surging, hundreds of bar owners in the city have banded together to require patrons to show proof of vaccination or a negative test for COVID if they want to sit inside. Ben Bleiman is a bar owner and the president of the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance. It represents more than 300 bars. He joins us now.
BEN BLEIMAN: Yeah. Thanks for having me.
CHANG: Thanks for being with us. OK. So we've already been seeing something similar in Europe, right? Like, a number of countries there now require people to show what's called a health pass before they can go inside bars and restaurants. Obviously, this is not the norm here in the U.S. So what prompted all of you to do this?
BLEIMAN: About three weeks ago, we started noticing, among our membership, that over and over and over again, vaccinated employees from different bars in San Francisco were coming down with COVID. And it was happening at an alarming rate. So first of all, you know, protecting the health of our staff and their families is kind of a sacred bond that we have. We're also talking about, you know, our customers and keeping them safe, of course, and then just our livelihood. So when somebody comes down with COVID, they're out for a minimum 10 days while they quarantine. And we're already dealing with a labor shortage in San Francisco.
So this actually happened to me. One of my bartenders last week contracted COVID, and he's vaccinated. And he couldn't work, and I couldn't find anybody to cover for him, so I had to close my bar one night. So we got together, and we started talking about it. And the first thing that jumped out to me about the conversation was just how angry and frustrated the bar owners were with people who are basically screwing this up for all of us. And those are the people who can get vaccines but choose not to.
CHANG: So it sounds like, you know, this is the official policy of the alliance. I understand that individual bars don't have to follow it, but it sounds like all the bars in the alliance are following it. Is that your sense?
BLEIMAN: Just anecdotally, it looks like almost all of them have already adopted it. I think we're looking at hundreds and hundreds of bars that have decided to do this.
CHANG: Have you heard from any bars who are not going to adopt this policy? And if so, what reasons have they given?
BLEIMAN: No, I have not. There were some people who were - actually, there were some who did not want to go through with it. But almost every single one of them in our poll has written saying, I accept this. I'll do it if all of you do it.
CHANG: Well, let me ask you - because social media has lit up with postings from people about how they think it's illegal for businesses to require proof of vaccination before entering. We should say that it is not illegal. But I'm wondering what the reaction's been like since your organization made this announcement. I mean, because there are such strong feelings about vaccinations, as you acknowledge, do you worry that bars could become a target of some of that anger?
BLEIMAN: We are seeing overwhelming support from our customer base. If anything, they've said it actually makes them more likely to come in the bar because they feel safer inside - and just very little backlash. The one place we've seen it is some trolling on Yelp and on Google reviews where, you know, all of the sudden we find ourselves getting, you know, 10 one-star reviews in a row.
CHANG: I'm curious how your two bars are doing. Because, I mean, for a little short period, we thought we were getting out from under this pandemic, but of course, now with the delta variant, things are different. How are your two bars doing with, you know, these new spikes in cases?
BLEIMAN: Yeah, it's funny. It moved so quickly. I miss the olden days in May and June. And now, the circumstances have changed. It's raging - just anecdotally hearing about people who are less comfortable going out now. And so, you know, here we are again.
CHANG: Well, I wish you the best of luck, Ben. Ben Bleiman is president of the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance and the owner of Soda Popinski’s and Teeth, two bars in San Francisco. Thank you so much for joining us today.
BLEIMAN: Thanks so much for having me.
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