What does it feel like when the industry you’ve worked in for 30 years disappears overnight?
Vickie Moran knows.
A hospitality-world lifer, she’s worked in restaurants and bars since she was a teenager, first as a cook and later as a bartender.
Before the shutdown, Moran, 47, tended bar at St. Petersburg’s Green Bench Brewing Co. and tap house/live music venue the Ale and the Witch, which she helped open nearly a decade ago.
But when the bars had to shut down in March, it was as if the lights had been switched off overnight.
“We weren’t really sure what was going to happen,” Moran recalled.
While restaurants at the time were allowed to stay open for to-go operations, the bars she worked at didn’t serve food, so there was no option to stay on and help out with takeout or delivery. There was simply no more work, and in an industry built on the very premise of social gathering, no immediate light at the end of the tunnel.
Navigating Florida’s flawed unemployment system led to another wrinkle. Though her bosses at Green Bench immediately laid off all their employees so they would be able to collect unemployment benefits, her other job kept employees on the payroll longer so they could give them additional weeks of vacation pay.
“It was very helpful, but it meant that it put me behind everyone else,” Moran said.
Once she was able to finally apply, in April, she was at the back of the line. And the application process itself was a nightmare, she said.
“The whole website was a disaster,” Moran said. “I could just never get through. It sort of got stuck and just kept on saying ‘pending, resolved, pending, resolved.’ I couldn’t get any answers and couldn’t get on the phone with anybody and figure out what to do.”
For a month and a half after she stopped working, Moran didn’t receive any checks. No stimulus money, no unemployment benefits. She felt lucky she had put a little bit of money aside, which helped her pay that first month of rent on the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, who also works as a bartender.
Finally, in the first week of May, the checks started to come through. Her $247 unemployment check now comes once a week. Together with the stimulus check, she was able to pay May rent. She worries about what will happen in June.
Still, Moran said she feels lucky. She knows colleagues who have had a much harder time. She’s heard horror stories of greedy landlords and friends with zero savings to fall back on, who are facing the possibility of losing their home.
Unemployment has brought things for which she is grateful: She’s trying out new recipes, reorganizing her pantry, killing time with board games and puzzles.
“It’s funny, as much as I want to go back to work, I have really enjoyed sort of rediscovering different things when you’re not just sitting in front of the TV,” she said. “Because you just can’t do that all the time.”
Moran misses the bar. She texts with customers and has Zoom happy hours with her colleagues, but yearns for the intimacy with strangers that bartending provides.
“You still get a little of that social outlet, but it’s just not the same,” she said. “It’s not the same as looking somebody in the eye and having that one-on-one interaction with them — that’s the thing that I miss the most.”
Moran recently went back to work with limited hours at Ale and the Witch to help out with to-go sales. The bar is otherwise still closed, and so is Green Bench Brewing Co.