Local businessman an example of those who have been hurt by COVID-19 restrictions
By Barbara High
Tribune Staff Writer
KEYSER - As the COVID 19 pandemic nears its year-long grip on our nation, many have felt the grip tightening more and more.
The pain has been especially hard on small business owners as their livelihood and means of supporting their family continue to be threatened.
For local businessman Luke Hoover, that grip is almost unbearable. Hoover, who owns Hoover’s Bar and Grill, also runs a gym and plays music. He says the pandemic has crippled his very way of life.
"I have suffered a triple effect,” he said during a recent interview with the News Tribune.
Hoover’s Bar & Grill is a popular place among the locals; it offers great dining and live entertainment. Many have used the establishment for fundraisers and benefits for those in need.
Hoover is known for trying to lend a hand to a good cause.
It is also one of the places that has felt the pressure from Governor Justices’s mandates the most.
Hoover tries to keep up with the mandates that seem forever changing. “When I played football 25 years ago, they didn’t change the rules during halftime,” he said. Yet mandates keep changing.
Indoor dining is only allowed at 50% capacity, tables have to be six feet apart, and patrons are to wear a mask into the establishment, but are allowed to remove it once seated. “The mandates don’t always make clear sense,” Hoover says. “Outdoor live music is allowed at only 25% capacity.” Which raises questions of why more are allowed to be in a closed-in area than are allowed outside, where it enables you to be even farther apart with fresh air.
Hoover is a third generation business owner. For him, working and serving his community is a way of life. He comes from a family that understood the sacrifice of owning and running a business, and supporting their families. Luke is no different. His local business supports himself, his wife, and young son. With the livelihood of his family on the line, he has done all he can to keep going.
“We increased our to-go orders, we continued with live entertainment until winter made it no longer bearable,” he said. With his gym affected and no live music allowed to be performed inside, Luke is no longer able to have any at his establishment or even play anywhere else.
“We have lost over $100,000 in revenue in the last 10 months,” he said. “I have several employees that I am trying to keep working, and a family to support.”
In the state of West Virginia you can come in for food, but not just a beer, you have to have food in front of you. In Maryland you can enter and drink and watch live entertainment, but have to leave by 10 p.m. Hoover asks how an of this makes sense.
“Things keep changing,” says Hoover. “For awhile we were only allowed to do to-go orders, which hurt us tremendously in alcohol sales.” For Hoover every different mandate makes it harder for them to keep their heads above water.
Hoover says he began their food truck to keep up sales, “We sit in that food truck freezing during the winter, just to keep things going,” he says.
What doesn’t set right with Hoover, he says, is while he is doing this Gov. Justice held a New Years Party at his luxury resort, The Greenbrier, with over 300 people attending. “Watch the videos, very few wore masks,” said Hoover. The governor should not mandate rules he can’t follow.
“I have made $1,440 dollars one Thursday night, then one thing changes and the next week that Thursday I make barely $400,” he says. “Be it, and positive COVID case, a new mandate, or any other little change to the rules.
“Everyone is making rules, the governor is making rules, the health department is making rules, the ABC is making rules,” says Hoover. “I get it and I want everyone to be safe, but they need to consider how to make some rules and guidelines and still allow small business to operate and make a living.
“No matter what the Governor gets paid, those at the health Department earn their pay, and the ABC employees are getting their pay,” he said. “They get to support their families no matter what. It’s small business owners who are struggling to earn a living and support their families, their communities, and their employees.
“It’s like they are pinpointing the little man,” he said.
For Hoover there are also other things that are happening to hurt his small business. Because of lay offs in other companies and other businesses also struggling to make it during these uncertain times of pandemic, prices of supplies are going up.
“A month ago I paid $43 dollars for a case of wings, and this week I paid $119.67 for the very same case of wings,” he said. “How much more do they think we can take.”
For Luke Hoover, that “We” is every small business owner in our area that is struggling to keep their doors open. A “We” that he feels very passionate about.
“I am proud to advocate on the behalf of all small businesses out there, and to stand up and ask why it’s okay for big businesses to remain open while we can’t, while we struggle to support our families. Ponderosa is gone, and Portwest,” said Hoover. “I don’t want to see another business close in our community.”
For Hoover, the vaccine that is beginning to be available should be a chance for them to look at the restrictions again. He feels people should be allowed to make their own choices again as where they want to go, and be allowed to decide if they want to go to an establishment and hear a band and have a drink.
“Life has to get back to normal eventually,” he said. “Being safe is important and I wear my mask, but people who want to go out should be able to and those who want to stay home should be able to.”
For Hoover it is simple: let people make choices, and let people run their business so they can support their livelihood.
“It’s easy for people to make rules when it doesn’t affect their ability to earn a living, it’s not them out here busting their butt freezing trying to run a food truck,” he said.