Live at Jack’s was more than great music and food, it was the dancefloor that I overcame my heartbreak on. It’s where the electric slide and cupid shuffle brought together couples that now have children.
It’s where Dotsero made you feel starstruck by local talent, and gave you pride in Denver’s music scene. It’s where I could find my community on nights I wandered lonely through the city lights.
Well, it’s gone now, and to my surprise, I’m actually fighting back tears writing this. Live at Jack’s was a personal friend gone, gone too soon. As was Armida’s, the karaoke bar where anyone could be a rock star. It’s where I practiced singing skills to the point where I actually launched a professional career as a vocalist.
My friend, David Winkler, met his wife there, and their two kids wouldn’t be here without Armida’s drink specials, sweaty tacos and off-key songs belted in the key of life. Another landmark Denver venue, gone too soon.
Business Den has posted a long list of restaurant venues that will be closing for good due to the pandemic. It reads like an obituary of close friends and lost memories. Among the personally painful ones are Meadowlark Kitchen, Tom’s Diner and Punchbowl Denver, Stapleton.
I could write a list of the good times I shared at all these locations, the smiles, laughs and overly-deep drunken conversations, but I won’t.
Instead, it’s time to mourn not only what these venues meant to the public, but their owners. Anyone who has ever tried to start a business knows how hard it is to generate business, even from a home-based operation.
Operating a profitable brick-and-mortar establishment is a whole different level of sacrifice. These entrepreneurs, in their own way, likely bet the farm on a dream and won, until COVID-19.
There’s an old saying in the Black community that says, “When white America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia.” No matter what the general unemployment numbers or economic outlook are in America, the Black community gets harder, seemingly by a rule.
After reportedly having the best job market on record for the Black community, those numbers are gone, according to a recent Wall Street journal article. So, when it was announced that Aurora’s Kasbah Nightclub was closing its doors after over 20 years, it was no surprise.
Comedian Monie Jonezy wrote a farewell tribute to the establishment. The owner, Shelton Bouknight, has not made a public comment.
And, so the cycle of grief begins. Naturally, one begins to ask, “Why?” The shutdowns cost us so much, yet so has COVID-19. Besieged by a foreign pathogen that has to date claimed 150,000-plus American lives, it seems if we didn’t do it, things would be worse if we didn’t close down.
But, when we finally open up again, what landscape will lie before us? Desolation? Miles and miles of boarded-up memories from the world that used to be? The experts say a vaccine won’t be ready until well into 2021. Four months of shutdowns, 51 million unemployment claims later, I have to ask, “Will the COVID gods ever be satiated?”
An estimated 150,000-plus dead Americans from COVID is horrific. Interestingly, this is around the same number of extra deaths of despair estimated to be on the way: 150,000. Suicides, drug overdoses and abuse murders related to the coronavirus could cost the same amount of lives as the disease.
How many of these will be business owners who put decades of sacrifice into an establishment that our shutdowns took away? Decades that they don’t have left in life to spare for a second try. Some may recover, but many will not because they just don’t have the lifespan to do so.
I challenge the idea that businesses had to be sacrificed to save lives. Perhaps some would say that my grieving process has me in denial of COVID-19. My retort is: maybe you’re in denial, too.
What if the reason to reopen the economy, and save these small businesses is simply that we cannot afford to stay closed? It’s literally going to break us … on every level. Unemployment benefits just ran out. The CARES Act national eviction moratorium expired. Could a new stimulus help? Maybe. Consider the stimulus cost of paying literally every working American to stay home.
Many of us are working from home, but there’s no work-from-home option for restaurant workers, and countless will be in danger if we don’t change policy. I’m not saying to not take precautions, such as masks and distancing, but is there a way to split the difference in our response to the pandemic?
In the end, these closing businesses fed our bodies and our humanity. They were the places that life happened, the thing you looked forward to all week. This matters because our mental health matters.
These businesses were the frontline workers of the joys in life. They call it “Happy Hour” for a reason. And, if we couldn’t afford to let the fear of terrorism destroy our way of life after 9-11, we sure as hell cannot afford to let COIVID-19 take it now.
Theo Wilson is a poet, speaker, activist and CNN contributor. Learn more about him at TheoWilson.net.
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