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caption: The Streamline Tavern in Seattle.
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The Streamline Tavern in Seattle.
Credit: Courtesy Mike Lewis

Seattle bar owner says 'it's uncharted territory' in coronavirus pandemic

You’ve had a rough day, maybe you’d like to unwind at the neighborhood bar. But with coronavirus closures, that's just not an option. And owners of those hangouts are struggling.

Mike Lewis is a former Seattle P-I reporter, current co-host on KIRO Nights and owner of the Streamline Tavern in Lower Queen Anne. He told KUOW host Angela King that he’s heard comparisons of the bar in the old Cheers TV show, where everybody knows your name.

Mike Lewis: It weirdly enough, kind of fits with the Streamline. Maybe not quite as nice of a place as the Cheers bar was, but it is very much a neighborhood bar. I would say 90% of our customers walk there.

We're not a place that people from, say, the north part of Seattle bother to come down to. But we are a place that everyone within about five blocks usually pops in. And so our customers don't only know each other really well, they know the staff really well. I can walk into that bar virtually anytime and know by first name 70% of the people in there.

Angela King: How are your employees handling all of this?

You know, our employees are dynamite. We’re lucky that we have an excellent staff. I mean, everyone's worried. We're doing what we can to help them out financially. And I'm trying to get all of that stuff that you'd never really get done. Deep cleaning in the kitchen, moving out all of the equipment, getting into the corners that you can seldom reach. Making minor repairs. I mean, our bar is open 365 days a year. So consequently, you're building it while you're flying it, essentially. And so this gives us a chance to take a breather, get some other things done, some longer term repairs that we wanted to make, or maybe some new paint here and there, some extra cleaning. And it also keeps some of our folks busy and earning money, because we sent out the message before all of the closures happened. I mean, I'm in the news business. So you could see this coming.

And you've dealt with hard times before as well.

We had to move the entire bar when we were evicted from our building because it was purchased by the South Korean government. And in downturns in the economy, we're an inexpensive place and so we tend to stay pretty even. We were mainly focused earlier on how to deal with the crush of people when hockey starts just a couple of blocks away. And now it's a whole new calibration. And so I think the first couple of weeks, we're going to try and keep anyone who wants a little bit of extra work down at our bar, any of our staff. But beyond those two weeks, it's uncharted territory for all of us. It's not just us. There are tens of thousands of people who are out of work right now, and many of them are not going to get their jobs back because some of these places are either going to close or they're gonna come back on a skeleton crew because they've depleted their cash resources. This is going to be a complete rewiring of the service industry in Washington state.

You talk about the rewiring. There's been a lot of talk about federal bailouts for bigger companies. Are you getting any kind of financial support?

No. And there's not a whole lot of money available. I mean, the small bailouts for the individuals that the government is talking about right now will cover someone for a pretty short period of time. There's unemployment. We have sent the links and suggested to all of our staff, file for this. But the small business bailouts are relatively small. We are in great terms with our landlord. He already called and said, look, let me know if you need to make any adjustments. We're in the Lower Queen Anne/Uptown neighborhood. It's expensive down there.

And so consequently, a lot of the stopgap measures, they're welcome, but they are designed around a one-month period, maybe a two-month period. They're not designed around a four-month period. And we don't know how long this is all going to last.

What’s ahead for the Streamline?

The business has been doing great. We're really happy where we are. We're happy with our landlord. Our location is super and we love our customers. And we've got a great staff. The Streamline has been in Uptown for 60 some odd years and we’ve owned it for 10. I want it for another 10 and another 10 after that.