Westside Sports Bar & Lounge in West Melbourne bans masks during COVID-19 pandemic

Rick Neale Florida TodayPublished 4:21 PM EDT Sep 21, 2020"Masks Prohibited": Patrons entering Westside S

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"Masks Prohibited": Patrons entering Westside Sports Bar & Lounge encounter unusual signs on the front doors, proclaiming masks are not allowed inside.

Owner Gary Kirby started banning masks Sept. 11. His stance amid the COVID-19 pandemic has attracted national media attention — and online death threats — along with a wave of support.

"I do agree that there is a virus, with a 1% death rate. I feel like we are statistically just as likely to get hit by a train," Kirby said.

"In addition to that, I have had thousands of people in here with their temperature checked. Nobody has been over 100. I have not had one positive case of this virus in this bar," he said.

"I do agree that (the coronavirus) is here, and we do need to be safe. We do take precautionary measures, as far as extra cleaning and social distancing. But as far as the face masks, I do not approve of that. I do not support it. And I won't have it," he said.

On July 16, the West Melbourne City Council unanimously adopted an emergency ordinance requiring masks for patrons and employees at 10 major retailers to try to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The 10 affected West Melbourne businesses:

  • Gordon Food Service (2655 W. New Haven Ave.)
  • The Home Depot (2829 W. New Haven Ave.)
  • Lowe’s Home Improvement (2150 Minton Road)
  • Publix (2261 W. New Haven Ave. and 145 Palm Bay Road NE)
  • Sam’s Club (4255 W. New Haven Ave.)
  • Target (4305 Norfolk Parkway)
  • Walgreens (3090 W. New Haven Ave.)
  • Walmart Supercenter (845 Palm Bay Road NE)
  • West Melbourne Ace Hardware (3221 W. New Haven Ave.).

In addition, the ordinance directed all West Melbourne storefront businesses to post mask policies on entry doorways.

Mayor Hal Rose opposes the Westside Sports Bar & Lounge's position on masks.

"The city of West Melbourne takes the CDC guidelines seriously. We support masks in public places for the safety of our citizens and the community — and don't support this stunt the bar has advertised on its window," Rose said.

"It's a business owner's right to dictate what they want inside their private business. I don't support (Westside's) philosophy. But it's their right," he said.

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Westside Sports Bar & Lounge is in the Metro West shopping plaza at U.S. 192 and Wickham Road. Kirby bought the establishment in March 2019.

He has printed and posted small posters saying “No More Masks” and “End This Nonsense” that he downloaded from the Florida Campaign for Liberty, a Kissimmee-based organization. He said feedback from the public has run about 80% positive and 20% negative.

Kirby said his no-mask policy also was shaped by a burglary last month.

Just before 7 a.m. Aug. 9, surveillance video captured footage of an unidentified burglar wearing a mask and baseball cap who had entered the sports bar via a back door, West Melbourne Police Sgt. Graig Erenstoft said. He stole an unspecified amount of money.

No suspects have been identified, and the investigation remains ongoing, Erenstoft said. 

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"Westside’s anti-mask stance is contrary to the guidance of the CDC and the Florida Department of Health," City Attorney Morris Richardson said.

"The city of West Melbourne takes the fight against COVID-19 seriously. As such, the city continues to recommend that residents wear face coverings if social distancing is not possible, refrain from large gatherings, and avoid crowds, closed spaces, and close contact," Richardson said.

"Working together as a community, we can win this fight," he said.

On Monday, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation let bars and breweries reopen at 50% capacity. Gov. Ron DeSantis had ordered them shut down since June 26.

Westside Sports Bar & Lounge operates a full kitchen, and Kirby said agents have visited his establishment to monitor coronavirus-regulation compliance during the pandemic.

On Tuesday, a small group of demonstrators drew widespread media attention by staging an "anti-mask flash mob" at a Target store in Fort Lauderdale, playing and singing the 1984 Twisted Sister song "We're Not Gonna Take It." The protest drew criticism from lead singer Dee Snider, who tweeted that the group did not have his permission to use his song "for their moronic cause."

If patrons enter Westside Sports Bar & Lounge wearing masks, Kirby said they will be asked to remove them. If they refuse, he said they will be asked to leave. If they refuse to leave, he said he will call police and have them trespassed from the premises.

Kirby said he employs a doorman who takes guests' temperatures as they enter, and the doorman uses a phone app to track occupancy levels. He said masks make it difficult for his bartenders to verify that customers are 21 or older, and to make sure they are not being overserved.

"If I had somebody that were to test positive for the virus, I would have to go into Plan B. Which would be, hire a company that would come in and do a mass sanitization. And if it was extreme, I would close the business down for the 14 days to make sure that we're OK," Kirby said. 

"I don't want that virus being spread. I don't want to be responsible for spreading it. Face masks are not the answer to that," he said.

During a COVID-19 briefing last week, Florida Department of Health-Brevard Assistant Director Anita Stremmel encouraged residents to wear face masks, practice social distancing, wash their hands, avoid crowds, and stay home from work or school if they feel sick.

Two additional West Melbourne businesses have decided to "opt in" and participate in the city ordinance requiring masks for customers and workers: Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery (4185 W. New Haven Ave.) and Sports Clips Haircuts of Hammock Landing (4311 Norfolk Parkway, Suite 104).

Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or rneale@floridatoday.com. Twitter: @RickNeale1. To subscribe: https://cm.floridatoday.com/specialoffer/

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