LIBERTY, Mo. — Clay County's loosened COVID-19 restrictions represent a sign of hope for restaurants and bars affected by the emergency order.
The Clay County Public Health Center rolled back restrictions Sunday, which had limited hours of operation and imposed limits on gatherings, as long as social-distancing and mask-wearing rules are enforced.
The extended hours will allow Melissa Jackson, owner of Boozer's Bar and Grill in Liberty, to hire additional staff.
"Our projection is that it will be a good summer," she said. "We are bringing on five more people to help with that. Especially with our closing hours, we needed to have somebody to stay until 1:30 in the morning."
Jackson said she needs to hire bartenders and kitchen staff and that she's been receiving a lot of applications.
The relaxed restrictions, along with decreasing COVID-19 cases, have given Jackson a renewed sense of optimism.
"We were really excited to know we could open our hours back up," she said. "We typically are open until midnight during the week and Friday and Saturday to 1:30 (a.m.)."
While Clay County businesses are no longer subject to gathering limits, they must make plans for and maintain proper social distancing among patrons.
Jackson recently expanded her outdoor seating. She hopes the warm weather sticks around, so customers can use it.
Owner Michael DePalma at the Landing Eatery and Pub said the business will probably stay open until 1:30 a.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays and midnight during the rest of the week.
DePalma said he plans to maintain the current occupancy he's been doing, which provides plenty of space for customers.
"I think a lot of our customers kind of like the fact that they have a little distance anyway," DePalma said.
While he said he welcomes the relaxed restrictions, DePalma also plans to stay prepared for the worst-case scenario.
"I'm always ready to be shut down again," DePalma said. "In the back of my mind, I don't want to be that way, but, 'Hey, I don't know.'"
He said he will bring on more staff when full capacity is allowed, but said hiring quality workers is tough right now.
"We have a hard time finding folks, quite honestly, that want to work in the industry for some reason," DePalma said. "I don't really know why, whether it's the unemployment benefits they get, but that's our biggest challenge right now."
It's been a long road, but he's grateful to the people of Liberty for their continued support.
"We're blessed by the folks that come in," DePalma said. "Even during the pandemic when we were shut down completely, curbside only, they took care of our staff, tipped them generously."