When he arrived at Two Doors Down on Tuesday morning, Philip Sharp checked the mail, as he always does before beginning his shift as general manager of the downtown Maryville bar and live music venue.
In the stack was the electric bill, which, while expensive, wouldn’t be cause for concern during normal times. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic chucked “normal” out the window a week or so ago, however, and with Two Doors Down — along with other bars and live music venues throughout the state — shut down until at least April 7, that utility bill feels a little more worrying than usual, Sharp told The Daily Times.
“I could come in here and shut everything off in the bar and let everything swelter, but we’re going to make the best of our time and do a deep clean,” Sharp said. “So the TV will still be on. The lights will still be on. The electricity bill ain’t gonna stop, and the mortgage ain’t gonna stop. Sure, you can defer the payment, but then you get hit with a huge one on the other side of all this.
“It is what it is, and I guess we’ll make do somehow. Right now, I’m staring at an empty bar, and it’s kind of nuts.”
Up and down Broadway Avenue, which ribbons through the heart of downtown Maryville, the three venues that provide live music several nights a week — Two Doors, Brackins Blues Club and Bluetick Tavern — are struggling to make it through two weeks of mandatory closure, per an executive order signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Sunday. Last week, Rocko Reynolds was cautiously optimistic about Bluetick’s emergency planning, but by the weekend, everything had changed.
“All of our banquets have canceled, and as of right now, our dining room is still open, and we’re offering curbside service and delivery in a five-mile radius,” Reynolds said on Saturday. “But we’ve had to let go of about 85% of our staff. These are kids, or people with kids, and they’re wanting answers I don’t have.”
And then on Sunday, the executive order came down, and Reynolds — Bluetick’s booking manager — found herself adjusting to new information, as she and others in the Blount County
entertainment industry have done daily since the coronavirus began to spread.
“As of tonight, our dining room is obviously closed,” she said Sunday via a Facebook message. “We’ll still be doing carryout and to-go orders for as long as we’re able. We have officially laid off everyone that isn’t management, so it’ll be just random Aubrey’s (Bluetick is part of Aubrey’s Restaurant Group) managers cooking/ringing up/delivering for at least the next two weeks. We’re trying to stay open as best we can.”
Those efforts lasted two days. Tuesday afternoon, Reynolds returned with a brief Facebook announcement: “Today’s our last day open. See you on the other side.”
Over at Brackins, Christina Nore O’Rourke is confident that her venue can hold out until the April 7 date when business is slated to resume — but she’s also concerned that such an order will be extended. The Brackins team, however, has some experience with forced closure: Last year, the brick façade of the bar’s exterior collapsed onto the street, and the bar was closed for three weeks.
“We got through that and came back, so that’s our plan this time,” she said. “The problem is that like every other business closed right now, we still have bills coming in, but there’s just not much we can do. We’re going to have a really big cleaning day in the next couple of weeks, so I can pay the staff some cash to work for a couple of hours, but right now, that’s all we can do.”
On Monday, the first day of the closure, the Two Doors crew held an all-staff meeting for several hours to figure out their best course of action. Throughout the afternoon, the occasional unaware patron pulled on the locked door and peaked through the windows. At one point, Sharp, owner Lisa Breazeale and the other members of the Two Doors staff considered staying open for carry-out and delivery orders of food, but ultimately decided against it.
“We do sell a lot of food, but we’re not one of those places people are going to hit up if they want something to eat,” Sharp said. “So we made a page-long, two-column list of things we can do to deep clean from top to bottom, while no one is here, so we can try and make the best of it. Mama (the affectionate nickname the Two Doors staff uses for Breazeale) is most concerned about the employees and our customers, a lot of whom are our extended family.”
It’s not a claim he makes lightly: Across social media, through text messages and by numerous phone calls, they’ve reached out, asking what they can do to support the business and the staff. From Two Doors to Brackins to Bluetick, the message is the same: Don’t forget us while we’re shut down.
“We’re coming back with a vengeance,” Sharp said. “We’re going into our 13th year as a small business, and we’ve survived some crap over the years — we even survived a roof getting blown off the building. But people need to understand, April 7 is not set in stone. Next Tuesday, they could say, ‘We’re pushing it back to April 14.’ And we’ve got to be prepared for that, also. Right now, we’re just kind of playing it by ear, but we have no intention of closing.”
“And when we do open back up, the best way they can help is by showing up when we throw a big ol’ party,” O’Rourke added.