In a barrage of moves to help Atlanta’s lesbian bar outlast the coronavirus pandemic, My Sister’s Room overhauled its backyard lounge, began selling meal kits and gallon margaritas online, redesigned its website and plans outdoor movie nights.
The changes continue as the bar gears up for Atlanta Pride weekend with a mix of indoor and outdoor events at reduced capacity.
“We’re just trying to survive like everybody else,” owners Jennifer and Jami Maguire told Project Q Atlanta.
My Sister’s Room shut down several days before Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms ordered all restaurants, bars and other spaces to close in March. They reopened in early June with a number of new safety protocols.
Employees are masked, and customers are required to wear them when not eating or drinking. Owners capped capacity at 50 people upstairs, 50 downstairs and 50 in the backyard. Cleaning and sanitizing takes place throughout business hours, followed by a total detox on Mondays and Tuesdays.
“Overall the feedback from the staff and customers has been great,” the Maguires said. “We’ve had some people that gave us some pushback about the mandatory masks. It’s a training thing. You have to train yourself. This is the new normal for all of us.”
My Sister’s Room temporarily shut down in July after four employees tested positive for coronavirus. It reopened with temperature checks at the door and hand sanitizer stations throughout the bar.
There have been no positive tests since reopening, according to the Maguires. The goal going forward is to stay open safely.
“We can’t just be shut down,” the Maguires said. “To be shut down is $25,000 a month.”
Sales drop 60 percent but grants helping
The federal Small Business Administration gave the bar a Payroll Protection Program loan, but it only made a dent, according to the owners.
“We were given enough to cover rent and payroll for a month,” they said. “It was incredibly frustrating, but we’re grateful we were able to get it.”
They managed to retain all of their employees through the chaos of the pandemic.
“We have not fired one person due to COVID,” they said. “We’ve about drained our savings accounts to make sure our employees are paid.”
“We are really grateful for the business we have,” they added. “Sales are probably [down] 60 percent compared to last year, but we can pay the bills and our staff is getting money in their pocket.”
My Sister’s Room was also one of 10 LGBTQ-owned businesses in the U.S. to receive a grant from the Human Rights Campaign and Showtime in September. HRC did not publicly disclose the amounts of the grants.
“We felt very honored to win the award and we’re very surprised,” they said. “We are very grateful to the HRC and Showtime for such an honor.”
The Maguires hope the new lounge and outdoor movie nights will help draw more people.
“We’re trying to utilize our backyard as much as possible,” they said. “We’re also looking to do some outdoor concerts. It’s very capacity restricted.”
The owners pleaded with LGBTQ Atlantans to take proper safety precautions.
“We have got to be smart and care about our community so we can get rid of this damn disease once and for all and get back to business,” they said. “We’re never going to flatten the curve if we don’t. You see social media of these massive parties, and it’s incredibly frustrating.”
The Maguires discussed the difficulties of navigating their business through the coronavirus pandemic during an episode of Q Conversations, which is Project Q Atlanta’s live Q&A series.
During the discussion, Jami Maguire praised MSR’s customers for their patience as the bar worked to reopen after being shut down.
A grant from Facebook Journalism Project’s COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund made this story possible.
Photo by Russ Bowen-Youngblood