Durham Bulls season cancellation puts businesses, employees in a tight spot

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DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The sound of a cracking bat and cheering crowds are what summers at the Tobacco Road Sports Cafe are all about.

“It’ll definitely be a much quieter summer,” said Makenzie Barnes, a bartender at the restaurant. She describes a full house when the Durham Bulls have a home game.

This year, the Durham Bulls baseball season is canceled.

Tobacco Road’s patio overlooks the DBAP. It’s a huge attraction for fans and casual baseball watchers.

This canceled minor league baseball season is another strike for employees counting on game day crowds. Businesses surrounding the ballpark hoped the season would help them rebound from a rough couple of months.

“We’re practicing as much safety as possible so we can bring our people back to our restaurant. I most of all, just miss the community,” said Barnes.

The lack of community is impacting the restaurant’s bottom line. Barnes said much of the staff has not been able to return because there is not enough business.

“I’ll work six hours and I’ll walk out of here with 30 or 40 bucks. It’s not sustainable,” she said.

Down the street, the Wine Feed’s patio also sits empty. It was recently redone to entice more people to come by.

“We’re trying to make the outdoors a really nice place to hang out since we’re not allowing people inside for service at this point,” said Anna Kohler, special events coordinator for the Wine Feed and Pine and Poplar.

No baseball games means a change of pace for the wine business, too.

“I’m a Bulls member myself and it was always really fun to see people coming before games and after games to celebrate this hometown feel we have in Durham so it’s gonna be really sad,” said Kohler.

Wine club memberships helped to keep business afloat. Kohler said their special events space, Pine and Poplar are currently at a standstill.

Durham looks for solutions

Social distancing requirements inside restaurants limit the number of people allowed to dine-in. Adding more outdoor seating could help solve that problem.

The Durham City Council discussed a proposal to allow restaurants to increase their outdoor seating capacity in the hopes of increasing business on Wednesday. The ordinance could be temporary and in response to the decline in revenue as a result of COVID-19.

Under current guidelines, businesses may only apply for a permit for up to 25 percent of their indoor capacity on a sidewalk. The new ordinance, which was approved and applies to certain parts of downtown, would allow businesses to apply for a permit for up to 50 percent of their indoor capacity.

Businesses would be allowed to place seating on public property like current parking spots or parks. The expanded seating would allow for social distancing precautions.

The city anticipated a loss of roughly $39,000 due to parking fees that would not be collected if a business took those spots over for seating. The city anticipated purchasing barriers to section off on-street seating.

Pre-approved locations for outdoor seating expansion in Durham

Swipe through the slideshow below to see the pre-approved locations for outdoor seating expansion

Helping ballpark staff

In June, the Durham Bulls announced in June its Safe-at-Home Relief Fund. The program was designed to help seasonal employees who found themselves out of work.

Up to 200 employees who worked the 2019 season and were scheduled to work during the 2020 season were eligible for the fund.

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