Visitors to the reopened Atlanta Eagle will find a now-familiar scene in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic: temperature checks at the door, employees in masks, hand sanitizer stations scattered throughout and staff constantly cleaning one of the city’s oldest gay bars.
As of this week, face coverings are required for all patrons and staff.
It’s all part of owner Richard Ramey’s plan to protect people and keep the club afloat after being shut down for over two months.
“One of the biggest struggles I’m having is trying to make sure my employees and staff are safe, but also keeping the community safe,” he told Project Q Atlanta. “There’s so much uncertainty. The numbers are going up.”
Gov. Brian Kemp gave bars the OK to reopen on June 1 with limited capacity and with 39 mandatory guidelines to follow. The Eagle opened two days later.
The crowds have been small, which Ramey (photo) regretfully appreciates.
“I’ve not had a big decision to make of who to turn away and who to let in, so I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “I really need the business to pay the bills, but it would be a big burden on me if hundreds of people showed up at one time.”
Most of the returning Eagle patrons have congregated on the bar’s two-level patio, which Ramey encourages.
“We have an outdoor bar, an outdoor bathroom,” he said. “We’re trying to make it safe and also be part of the solution in not spreading the virus.”
The dancefloor may be able to reopen in July, and another idea is to take the party outside like the Eagle typically does on Pride Weekend.
“We’re going to open up our parking lot and make an area out there so people can stay outside and socialize,” Ramey said.
‘We’re definitely in this together’
Ramey also owns the Flower Cottage in East Point. The store briefly closed to the public at the beginning of statewide lockdowns, but it continued doing no-contact orders by delivery.
“We set the item by your door and call you to let you know it’s there so you don’t have to have any interaction with us,” Ramey said. “They’re still able to get a beautiful arrangement or gift and not have to interact with someone.”
Now Flower Cottage deals with another unforeseen effect of the pandemic: a rose shortage.
“The roses are not coming out because they didn’t have anyone to work the fields during the times we stayed at home,” he said. “Our roses come from all over the world and almost every country had a shelter-in-place order. Right now we’re just limited in what we can get.”
Ramey didn’t apply for business loans from the federal Small Business Administration.
“I really didn’t see how that program would help me,” he said. “It was very limited in what you could do with that money. So far, all I’ve heard is nightmare stories about that.”
“I was scared to put my name on a bunch of money that I didn’t know that I could personally pay back. Once you owe the government money, they don’t take no for an answer,” he added.
So Ramey remains focused on serving the customers he can at the Eagle and Flower Cottage, while hoping against a second round of closures or restrictions.
“The economic blows that small businesses are taking from this is going to be catastrophic for a lot of us,” he said. “It takes revenue in order to operate a business. When you don’t have that, you can only hang on for so long.”
On the silver-lining side, Ramey said he’s been heartened by the community response.
“My customers, the community in Atlanta and East Point, everyone’s just been wonderful,” he said. “Everyone’s been so understanding. We’re definitely in this together.”
Ramey was a guest on the June 19 episode of Q Conversations, Project Q’s new live virtual event series, where he was joined by other LGBTQ bar owners to talk about the COVID Era. Register for the July 10 episode featuring three elected officials making LGBTQ history in Gwinnett County.
This story is made possible through a grant from Facebook Journalism Project’s COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund. Photo by Russ Youngblood for Project Q.