Kevin Slater doesn’t want his private club, the Atomic Fern, or any bar, to be allowed to reopen right now. But he’s pretty mad that neither the state, nor the city of Durham, has done much to offer relief to small businesses that have been forced to close, and stay closed, for months on end.

That’s why Slater is suing both the State of North Carolina and Durham city government for damages in excess of $25,000.

With a superior court complaint filed yesterday in Durham County, Slater says he hopes to draw attention to the fact that “businesses all over the place have been basically ignored.”

Slater’s six-year-old Parrish Street bar closed on March 16, the day before Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order closing bars and restaurants due to the growing COVID crisis. Restaurants, of course, have since been able to reopen at 30 percent capacity. Bars—technically considered private clubs if they don’t sell food–were allowed to reopen with social distancing if they have outdoor seating, and any businesses can open to sell to-go cocktails, albeit with limitations.

None of this has helped Slater, he says. He still has to pay rent, and even though there’s currently a moratorium on evictions—one that came too late for the Atomic Fern, as its landlord changed the locks earlier this month—Slater says he won’t be able to afford the back-rent he’s accrued over the course of nearly a year, now estimated to cost him $20,000.

What’s really needed, Slater says, is a moratorium on rent and utilities.

“At the end of this, I will end up owing so much money,” Slater says. “The small amount of relief things that they have done have been not even close [to what we need]. They feel like pat answers to say, ‘Look, we’re doing a thing,’ but they’re really not doing anything.”

Slater’s lawsuit is different from the one that a group of bar and club owners filed in May challenging Cooper’s authority to shut down bars and restaurants in the first place. In that case, a judge ruled in favor of the Cooper administration, citing the governor’s executive authority to close down businesses in the name of protecting the public health.

While Slater concedes that his suit has a slim chance of success, he hopes it makes people—and governments—realize that small businesses and private clubs like his have been left stranded.

“We don’t qualify for Payroll Protection grants because we no longer have employees,” Slater says. “I’ve been denied a business loan from the Small Business Administration. The Atomic Fern is not looking for a payout. I am not looking for a payout. I am not asking to reopen. We just want the state and Durham governments to recognize that the efforts they are doing are not helpful.”

In a statement to the INDY, a spokesperson for the governor’s office says the administration is abiding by scientific data to keep people safe.

“The governor will continue to find ways to help people and businesses struggling due to the pandemic, and he plans to work with the General Assembly to identify avenues to provide additional relief.”

The INDY has reached out to the city of Durham for comment. We will update this story when they respond.

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3 replies on “Durham Bar Owner Sues State, City, for Damages Related to COVID Closure”

  1. This guy is right on point. Small businesses shouldn’t have to take out small loans though to stay afloat. I do agree with the efforts to reduce social interaction but the businesses and people that are complying shouldn’t have to shoulder the entirety of the burden with no resources to keep them going. Additionally I don’t feel like these small businesses should have to apply and qualify for loans. I think they should be given free money at a reduced amount to offset some of their expenses while seeking other creative means of bringing in revenue and adhering to the safety guidelines. My spouse and I have a small rental business and we’ve resorted to numerous options to help our tenants pay their rent without the help of the local government programs due to the disadvantage their solution would have created for us. It really angers me to no end that our elected officials are not more engaged with the community with providing sensible solutions to keep everyone that have been successful with their small businesses and lifestyles viable. This isn’t a political party issue it is plain and simple an issue with being disconnected with the people.

  2. A bunch of us regulars have started a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign to help out the fern. For all you folks asking how to help, this is how! All the money is going to go to kevin to help pay for his bills. I dont think he even knows about it yet, ha. We’re doing it out of a genuine love of this bar and what we get out of being a part of that community. You can read all about it on thr crowdfunding page. Please donate if you can and spread the word on social media! #PartyAtTheFern

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