CORONAVIRUS

Some Iowa City bars and restaurants close again as coronavirus spikes

They and some other merchants taking time out to see if cases stabilize

General manager Patrick McBreen looks May 7 at his point of sale computer as a delivery order comes in at the Airliner i
General manager Patrick McBreen looks May 7 at his point of sale computer as a delivery order comes in at the Airliner in Iowa City. The iconic downtown institution announced on social media it is closed again for now. “For the health of our guests and staff, The Airliner will be closed for dine in and carry out. Don’t worry — we’ll be back to hangin’ soon!” it said. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — When the Artifacts antiques shop was ordered along with other stores in Iowa to close its doors to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, social media sales were the only thing keeping its employees paid and the rent checks on time.

Now the shop is closing its doors again — this time by its own choice — to protect staff and customers as positive cases surge once again in Johnson County. Owner Todd Thelen said the store has seen three of its mostly older customers die because of COVID-19.

“The number of people who are not taking this seriously kind of frightens me,” he said. “I think they’re being selfish.”

Artifacts is not alone as several businesses in Iowa City are alarmed over the recent spike in cases — especially among younger people.

Johnson County currently is on a 10-day stretch of double-digit increases in positive case, with 61 new cases reported in the last 24 hours ending at 11 a.m. The number of positive COVID-19 cases in the county increased by 34 percent in one week.

Businesses that closed or limited operations at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic had started expanding operations as Gov. Kim Reynolds began easing restrictions. But some — including ones that attract a young clientele — are choosing to close again as more people flock to downtown.

Artifacts is closed at least through Monday, when it will see how things have changed in the county before deciding whether to open again, Thelen said.

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Jason Zeman, owner of Studio 13 and Yacht Club, said both bars were open for only two weeks before they closed again Thursday. He said he is going to check the case numbers to see if they’ve stabilized in 14 days. If so, the bars may reopen, he said. If not, he will keep checking weekly.

Zeman said he asked around — on his staff, many who work at other downtown establishments, too, and others around downtown — and heard that other businesses were seeing more and more positive cases. No one on his staff has tested positive for COVID-19, but he’s worried it’s a matter of time.

“At that point, I said it’s just not worth it,” Zeman said.

Ninety percent of the downtown-goers Zeman has seen have been in their 20s, he said — and may not view the COVID-19 pandemic as an urgent matter. Of all the positive COVID-19 cases in Iowa, 66 percent have been in people aged 18-40.

Both the Airliner and the Fieldhouse, longtime bastions of the college-age crowd, also have closed back up for now.

“For the health of our guests and staff, The Airliner will be closed for dine in and carry out. Don’t worry — we’ll be back to hangin’ soon!” the Airliner posted on social media.

The Fieldhouse and the next door DC’s announced they would be closed through Sunday.

“We wish everyone an enjoyable and most importantly, SAFE weekend. Thanks for all your support!” the announcement said.

The Dumpling Darling restaurant announced it would be closed for two weeks starting Thursday after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

The restaurant’s indoor seating has stayed closed throughout the pandemic, and employees were wearing masks and gloves and undergoing temperature checks.

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The business has not returned to being open during bar hours despite bars reopening. It didn’t feel safe yet to serve bar crowds, co-owner Lesley Rish said.

Rish said she doesn’t think the employee was exposed to COVID-19 while working, but it’s hard to know for sure.

“Things like this can still happen, even with (safety measures) in place,” Rish said.

Comments: (319) 398-8371; brooklyn.draisey@thegazette.com

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