Des Moines Bar Owner Speaks Out After Getting Hit With $1,000 COVID-19 Fine

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Over the last month the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division has fined nine Iowa bars that have allegedly failed to follow COVID-19 regulations.

The owner of Kelly’s Little Nipper, Jeff Stark, said the biggest challenge they have had is making sure that people are following these guidelines in their establishment while not losing business from customers who aren’t happy with the new rules. 

“For the most part, 90-95% of the customers are very conforming and understanding, and it’s those handful who say things like, ‘Oh, this is so political and why do I have to do that,’” Stark said. “And it’s a fine line of communicating the best you can without upsetting someone.”

Stark received a $1,000 fine a few weeks back for not requiring a customer to order food with an alcoholic beverage and for customers not social distancing.

He said there are signs up all over the bar notifying patrons of the regulations, and if the enforcement agents stayed longer, they would have witnessed most customers following the rules.

Since being fined, Stark has hired more staff to monitor all areas of the bar and is considering closing Kelly’s Little Nipper at 8 p.m. to avoid the busy late night crowds.

Bar owners charged with a fine do have the options to pay or ask for a hearing from an administrative law judge.

Stark said though it is frustrating to be punished for a proclamation that was only enforced for three weeks, he does intend on paying the $1,000 fine, but not without adding his two cents first.

“Looking at the intent of an establishment and giving a warning would be a little bit more fair. Because you know we’ve made the adjustments. In fact, the night that we got written up, the same day the health inspector came in with a COVID representative, and he commended us on the things that we were doing,” Stark said.

The Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division currently has a “three strikes rule” in place for bars not following guidelines. One strike is a $1,000 penalty. Two strikes results in a seven-day license suspension. The third strike would involve revocations. No Iowa bar has gotten more than a license suspension for breaking COVID-19 regulations. 

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