Outdoor drinking area helped save Hamilton jobs, bar owners say

If not for Hamilton’s Downtown Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) program, Municipal Brew Works would have had to lay off more employees than the one beer-production employee it did during the coronavirus crisis.

And with reopenings of Ohio bars and restaurants on the near horizon — patios and other outdoor areas Friday, and establishments’ interiors the following Thursday — Jim Goodman, one of the Municipal Brew Works’ owners, is looking forward to increased business ahead.

DORA “has absolutely helped us during this COVID time,” he said. “It has allowed us to maintain our employees.”

Only one of the company’s dozen employees had to be laid off, because less beer was being brewed. And Goodman expects to rehire him soon.

“The benefits of it have been amazing,” he said. “We’ve gone through thousands and thousands of cups since its inception, and I don’t know of any incidents in the entire DORA districts that have been reported, so it’s really been a blessing for us.”

Hamilton spokesman Brandon Saurber said the city in the past couple months provided between 18,000 and 20,000 cups to DORA-participating businesses free of charge “to help them through this situation.”

Goodman said his micro-brewery has passed those savings on to its customers.

In Middletown, where Health Director Jackie Phillips suspended the DORA program March 20, there was no immediate word when it would be allowed to resume. Middletown created Ohio’s first DORA program and was contacted by many other governments across the state wanting to imitate it.

At Liberty Center, General Manager John Taylor said although many of the stores have been closed, “there are some people out here who seem to be using the property as a park-type setting.”

Taylor said he hopes the DORA allowances will help people feel more comfortable taking food and drink to surrounding areas within the Liberty Center area, who otherwise might be reluctant to eat and drink indoors at the establishments.

“I think it’ll springboard to get the momentum back,” Goodman said. “Especially downtown Hamilton and the greater Hamilton area is such a momentum force that this COVID situation is a bump in the road.”

Things will be different, with more social distancing, “but for the most part, I just see things kicking right back again.”

The city will arrange its patio for greater distancing among people. He’s also encouraged that Hamilton recently sent out surveys to businesses about public areas that might be used to provide additional restaurants and pubs.

Two Saturdays ago, “the Marriott parking lot looked like an Ohio State tailgate football game,” Goodman said. “I saw some folks that I know and they came over from Liberty Township and West Chester. They had seen photographs on social media the week before, showing that DORA was alive and well in Hamilton, and Marcum Park was so close,” with several restaurants and bars participating.

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