The Atomic Fern opened in January of 2015. The hope was to create an open and welcoming spot where folks could come in and not be bothered by loud TVs or loud music. A place where you can come in with your friends and play a board game and not have to shout to be heard. In those early days we were often told by new customers “Hey, you know what you need? A TV” or “Can you turn the music up? I can’t hear it”. We advised these folks where they could hear loud music or watch TV if that’s what they wanted. We wanted a place where you could bring that Tinder date, decide that he was a jerk (because they usually are), and meet someone new. Make friends, have stimulating conversation, grab a halfway decent cocktail. We want to be an open place where you don’t feel like you need to hide who you are. A safe space. We got you, boo.
In January of 2020 there started to be rumblings of a virus that seemed pretty bad. By mid March the state mandated that all businesses that were not deemed essential would be closed for two weeks. About a week later that was changed to a phased re-opening plan (here in North Carolina, anyway). As of this writing, We have been closed for almost 5 months. Please don’t think this is us bitching about “but we need to make money!” because it’s not. We should be closed. Most places SHOULD BE CLOSED RIGHT NOW. Hey, want to not catch a virus that will fucking kill you? Maybe skip dining in at that restaurant. Maybe wait til that movie comes out on LaserDisc or whatever your preferred home viewing method is. Maybe skip that family picnic. Maybe if you have to go out wear a fucking mask and keep your distance from other people. Maybe DON’T GO TO A BAR. Yeah, we are a bar. Don’t come here. At least not until you and we can be SAFE.
All that said, We feel that if the State says “Hey, stay home and all you businesses need to be closed until we say it’s ok for you to not be closed anymore” then they need to back that up with some form of “Oh, and don’t worry about rent”. We’re not talking about racking up rent and then being tens of thousands of dollars in debt due to back rent when they say we can re-open. We’re talking about a rent pause. Not just for businesses. For all people. If we are required by the State to be closed and can therefore not make a penny towards our rent and utilities, then we shouldn’t have to pay them. That just seems like common sense. Spoiler alert: They didn’t say this. They said “You must be closed” (to businesses) and “You can not go to work” (to workers everywhere. Again, we agree with all of this!), but there was no follow up. There has been very little in the way of financial support from those that are mandating that we be closed. There was the federal Payroll Protection Plan, meant to pay workers wages when they come back to work, but The Atomic Fern, as a bar with no food option, is not allowed to be open in North Carolina. Locally, Durham and Duke offered a ten thousand dollar grant for local businesses. We got that and it went straight to the landlord. There are other, less desirable options as well. There are “very generous” loan offers. Well, speaking for the Fern, we didn’t have any debt when this pandemic started, why should we be forced to take on some when it’s the State that is mandating our industry be closed? I’ve spoken with other small business owners who did have existing debt, and they don’t want to take on any more either. Again, WE THINK BEING CLOSED IS A GOOD THING AND THAT MAYBE SOME THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO OPEN SHOULD BE RE-CLOSED. Don’t offer me a loan and tell me how lucky I am. Offer to put rents on pause.
Anyway, is that who we are? Yeah, I think so. A quiet place (usually) where you can come in a have a quiet conversation and maybe play some games with your friends. Note that I didn’t say drink. Yeah, you can do that here and it is the only way we can pay the bills, but our goal is more than that. The State still says you have to be 21 to enter though. We hope to see you soon! Stay safe and take care of each other.