Melrose Bar Owner: People Protect People, not Government

Boycott Bar in Melrose. Photo Credit: AZcentral.com

Audrey Corley finally has her business back.

“Business is real good,” she said in June. “I think we’re doing better than we were because people are more appreciative and more supportive.”

Consistent patronage was tricky even before the government took over in March 2020.

Any night prior could have found a line outside Boycott for a dance party, or a single group of friends sharing a pizza at the pool table.

Corley’s hole-in-the-wall, which was named “Best Lesbian Bar” in 2019 by The Phoenix Newtimes, features an arcade, dance floor, and dj booth.

It is located at 7th and Glenrosa Avenues, smack dab in the middle of what is unofficially Phoenix’s most “diverse” neighborhood, The Melrose District.

Corley, a Phoenix native, has owned the hang-out spot about four years.

She believes she is serving in one of oldest people-professions in history.

“Everyone is welcome here, you know,” Corley said. “Boycott is about being who you are with others.”

Like thousands of business owners throughout Phoenix, Corley found out via social media that police may cite or arrest her if she didn’t close her doors at 8 p.m. on St. Patricks Day, 2020.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego dictated that proclamation earlier in the day, without the legally required consent of the City Council, and with no authority per the Phoenix Charter or State Constitution.

The Mayor, who squeaked into power after a run-off election in 2019, claimed she wanted to protect the public from the spread of COVID19.

She mimicked the actions of other mayors of major U.S. cities like New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles, all of who did have the authority to give executive orders. (Click to read more about T.M.L.’s 2020 investigation into the Mayor’s actions.)

A few days later, the Council ratified Gallego’s order behind locked doors, and she and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey have publicly jabbed at each over their respective authority ever since.

Meanwhile, it was months before the government stepped up to offset the damage they did to Corley and others, in the name of “safety.”

“Imagine being shut down, having employees, and you don’t know where their livelihood is going to come from,” Corley said. “I think if (government) is going to do that, the relief should come immediately.”

Corley said she was very grateful for the loans and stimulus checks from the Federal Government, as well as the help from local agencies, but it was the support of her customers that kept her going.

“We came out better from it,” she said. “I learned a lot about survival. The community kept showing up and buying our drinks. It may sound simple and stupid, but it meant a lot to us.”

The Arizona Department of Public Safety, which regulates liquor licenses, authorized bars and restaurants to sell liquor to-go during the era when patrons were banned from gathering indoors.

It was a complete 180-degree turn from Arizona liquor policy prior to the pandemic, to say nothing about everything else the government did in 2020 that went reverse of Arizona law.

Corley said the public wasn’t allowed inside Boycott for six months, and then only at 25% capacity.

Patrons were not allowed to dance, but were allowed to walk to restrooms.

They were required to wear masks while standing, but not while sitting down.

“People were angry,” she said. “Some of it didn’t make sense, but we abided by it all because we did what we had to do.”

After a while, the allowable occupancy was extended to 50%, and then Ducey cancelled all restrictions in March 2021, despite objections from Gallego and others who wanted more Arizonans vaccinated first.

On the anniversary of the shutdown, Boycott was back to operating like a private business again.

Corley said she only received one letter from the Arizona Department of Health during the entire era that local and state governments controlled her business for her.

The rest of what the government wanted she learned from news or social media.

“I think there should be a better procedure,” she said. “If you want us to close you should notify us individually.”

She also didn’t think it was right for the government to deem certain businesses “essential.”

“I think if (government) is going to close private businesses, (they) should close everything,” she elaborated. “They should have been fair, and they weren’t.”

A few days after the closure, a neigbor called Phoenix Police to report Boycott was hosting a party.

“The cops were pretty irritated by the call,” Corley said. “I opened the door for them and showed them it was just me and two employees.”

A rumor had circulated the neighborhood about several bars hosting private gatherings in defiance of the government dictations.

Corley learned the neighbor’s name and shrugged it off as a biproduct of hysteria.

“I understand if he was scared,” she said. “But I think he should have come over and asked us before calling the police.”

Corley said she did not believe government had a right to shut down her business for something beyond her control, like a microscopic virus.

“(Government takeover) was something we’ve never lived through, and I think it was a real trial and error,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t happen again, but anything is possible in this life.”

Operating under the watchful eye of government was nothing new for bar owners prior to COVID19.

Bars are one of the most heavily regulated private business practices in Arizona.

There is an entire title dedicated to alcohol sales in the State Constitution.

“I’ve been in the business a long time so I’m used to it,” Corley said. “(Arizona) regulates the liquor sales and the distributors, and all sorts of things.”

Corley doesn’t believe that laws and licenses necessarily keep people safe.

“How do you really measure safer,” she asked rhetorically. “I think having good people who care is what makes it safer.”

Corley said she surrounds herself with employees and patrons who are concerned about each other.

“The regulations don’t make people care or make people safe,” she said. “We watch how much they drink, we slow them down, we cut them off, and we even drive them home.”

Corley said she has experienced personal loss from drunk driving, and she makes her own decisions as a business owner about the safety of the people who come into her establishment.

“Sure, some (businesses) don’t care about you,” she said. “I think anyone who has morals cares about safety.”

Generally, Corley said she wants to see Arizona continue to become more open minded, a place that welcomes people of diverse backgrounds, philosophies, and lifestyles.

“It’s important to support local,” she said. “We make our community, it’s built up of small businesses.”

Corley said neither she nor any of her employees have contracted COVID19 to her knowledge.