This article is part of an ongoing series of life in the Washington DC area during a pandemic
Bill Bayne remembers the exact moment when he realized the business he and his 3 partners operate here in Crystal City – the acclaimed Crystal City Sports Pub – could be in serious trouble from a virus that was then ravaging a city in China 7,545 miles away.
“I was at the last game the Wizards (Washington’s pro basketball team) got to play before the season was suspended. I was talking to this guy next to me who worked for the government. I remember saying ‘this stuff is getting bad’. I could see the storm coming. But he didn’t have a clue how ugly this thing (the virus) was going to be,” Bayne said. “Actually, I got pissed off and walked away”.
Today, two months later, Bayne admits that though he saw the impending danger, he still underestimated the drastic impacts from the COVID-19 virus. “I never in a million years dreamed the government would shut us down,” he said. “The financial impact is unbelievable”.
The sports pub, like many eating establishments across America, is now only allowed to offer food for takeout. So how does that drastic reduction translate into the money flow of the operation which Bayne co-runs with his other partners James Madden, Art Daugherty, and John Finley?
“ We estimate that we will lose $170,000 to $200,000 in April alone,” Bayne said, his tone matter-of-fact, but solemn.
When it was fully operational as recently as Super Bowl Sunday, the sports pub, which opened in 1994, was one of the places to be in the DC area to watch any sporting event, especially the most significant ones. The pub, located on Arlington’s restaurant row on 23rd Street, consists of three stories with bars and tables on each floor. It long has been heralded for having 100 TVs available for viewing, but Bayne explained this is no longer true. A giant screen that takes up one wall on the third floor replaced 16 of those sets. “So we only have 85 now,” he added.
The pub, which has a legal capacity of 350 patrons at one time, was always packed with Redskins, Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and fans of other professional DC teams whenever there was a local game televised. On Sundays, you can watch every NFL game being played. In addition, the pub serves as the unofficial home base for the fans of 19 colleges ranging from nearby Maryland University to Oregon State on the west coast. There are pool tables and video games. Sports memorabilia line all the walls and bathrooms of the establishment.
The pub sponsors various leagues, including one for softball and one for kickball. Throughout the year, it hosts almost-always-sold-out bus trips to professional sporting events. It’s not only a DC-area institution, but has been recognized by nationwide sports networks and magazines like ESPN and Sports Illustrated as one of the best sports bars in America.
But none of this was noticeable on this particular Tuesday afternoon in late April. Inside the pub there were only Billy, another of the partners, two managers shuttling back and forth from the street front widow of the pub’s patio to the kitchen with takeout orders, and a small kitchen staff to prepare the meals. There were no current sports on the TVs because there are no sports now being played anywhere in the country.
Prior to the pandemic-prompted shutdown, the pub employed a staff of 75, with about 40 of them having worked there for more than 3 years. Now they are all, except for the skeleton crew, collecting unemployment. The co-owner said the operation did apply for and receive PPP money (Paycheck Protection Program) a special federal allocation to help keep small businesses operating during these horridly troubling times, which are proving to be as devastating as the Great Depression of the previous century. “I think President Trump and the Feds did a great job with the PPP,” Bayne said. “I want to especially commend the president and then both (political) sides for passing the bill”.
Bayne said that while a major concern is the economic stability of his staff, which he compared to a large family, he is also worried about the “collateral” harm the closings are having on the Crystal City community in particular and the country as a whole. “This is unreal, the damage that has been done,” he pointed out. “People are cooped up with nothing to do and nowhere to go. There’s anxiety. There’s stress. You can’t stop the locomotive of the country from running. You’ve got to figure out a way to keep it open and safe”.
“I get it, I really do get it,” Bayne explained . “We have parents. We have grandparents. I’m 56. I’m overweight and diabetic so I’m in that danger zone. But I can’t live my life being scared of living. As a businessman, I don’t wake up every day to fail; I live to succeed. It’s the toughest call there is. But we have to at some point open up the country”.
Bayne said that while “we still could lose our business” he’s confident that won’t happen. His confidence, however, doesn’t extend to all the other eateries in the Crystal City area. “When they let people come in, we will get people back in here. We will do business. We have a model that works and we will be able to adjust that model. Will we make the money we did before – no way? But that’s not going to happen for everybody here. We have about 100 eateries in Crystal City. My best guess is that 40 percent won’t be able to survive and that means only about 60 percent of us will,” Bayne said.
“This will change the world of bars and dining. Look, at the end of the day, I hope everybody’s healthy. But I also hope for this country that the reaction (to the pandemic) doesn’t put a knife in that will hurt us for generations to come,” he added.