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'Like a ghost town' | New Orleans bars & restaurants struggle to survive pandemic and lack of business

“I’m used to seeing people everywhere. This city at night is like a ghost town. I see zombies walking around shaking,” said Cliff Bell.

NEW ORLEANS — As lawmakers consider another wave of economic aid for those hit hard by the pandemic, some local businesses are hitting a wall and are closing.  Workers at St. Charles Tavern packed up boxes Thursday.  The bar and restaurant, which has been in business for 103 years, is tapped out.  

In a tourist town, there aren’t enough locals to support a place like this, especially during a pandemic.  

 “I’m used to seeing people everywhere. This city at night is like a ghost town.  I see zombies walking around shaking,” said Cliff Bell.  

Bell has been the cook at the tavern for almost a decade.  He’s frustrated.  While a surge in COVID-19 cases is forcing more restrictions on bars and restaurants, Bell says others are free to be careless.  

 “I’ve seen bike riders 30, 40 of them riding bikes, no masks, nothing, and you call 311 and the city doesn’t do s***t,” said Bell.    

In the Freret neighborhood, the owners of Gasa Gasa are selling their business.  A socially distant society cannot sustain a music venue predicated on a packed house.  Brian “Tank” Greenberg can empathize.  

 “Unfortunately, if you watch the news, you start seeing more and more places hit that wall,” said Greenberg.    

Greenberg is the general manager at Tipitina’s, one of the most recognizable places for live music in New Orleans.  It’s been holding on for four months, but how long can that last with no one walking through the door?  

“This fall, I don’t know where we’ll be if we don’t see more positive steps, immediately,” said Greenberg.  

To survive Tipitina’s has to change its business model, some of that includes the streaming of virtual concerts

“I don’t know how sustainable that is in the long run, but it might be something to carry us through the storm,” said Greenberg.  

Back at St. Charles Tavern, what happens next with the building is unclear.   

“My mental stability is not good.  Some days are better than others.  I don’t know what the future holds,” said Bell.  

There could be some help for independent music venues like Tipitina’s.  Congress is considering a piece of legislation called the Restart Act.  If passed, it would give government financial aid to small businesses such as music venues.  That means very little for St. Charles Tavern.  A place that used to be open 24/7, is now permanently closed.

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