Pitkin County to hold Scarlett’s hand in reopening of Aspen restaurant after public health order violations
Scarlett’s restaurant and bar will be allowed to reopen Monday under a hand-holding agreement with local public officials, who will have direct oversight of COVID-related protocols at the business.
During a hearing Thursday over the business’s closure, Scarlett’s owner, Andrew Sandler, was targeted specifically by county officials, who required that he give his word that he will comply with social distancing and facemask requirements while at the restaurant.
“The ability for this business to open is being placed squarely on Andrew Sandler’s shoulders,” said Richard Neiley, assistant Pitkin County attorney. “If he can’t comply, we will simply shut the business down again. I hope he considers this a second or even third chance to keep his employees working.”
Sandler, who appeared with his lawyer by video at the virtual hearing Thursday, affirmed that he would enforce and personally adhere to social distancing and facemask guidelines. Sandler made no other comment at Thursday’s hearing.
Scarlett’s, located on Hopkins Avenue in downtown Aspen, was ordered closed Sept. 6 by Pitkin County Health after repeatedly failing to comply with social distancing and facemask rules outlined in local and state public health orders. The business also was forced to close for a period of days in June when it was found to be out of compliance with public health orders, necessitating meetings between public health officials and management.
Then on Aug. 1, the Bootsy Bellows nightclub in the basement of the Scarlett’s building was found by Aspen police to be open for business at about 1 a.m., with a bartender, cocktail waitress and about 30 patrons drinking in the noisy, disco-lighted establishment. The city’s Local Licensing Authority will address that violation during a hearing Oct. 13 and 14 that centers on the business’s liquor license.
Bootsy’s and Scarlett’s are both owned by Sandler.
Thursday’s hearing solely dealt with Scarlett’s and under what conditions it would be allowed to reopen. The business was shuttered after Sandler called Aspen police Sept. 4 during Labor Day Weekend for help dispersing crowds that had gathered at Scarlett’s and pushed it over public health order-limited capacity. Sandler told The Aspen Times after his business was closed that he felt public health officials were punishing him after he did the right thing by calling police when violations occurred.
“Clearly, I have a target on my back,” Sandler said Sept. 6. “We called the cops to help us disperse the crowd and get rid of the groups of people and were rewarded by the government shutting us down today.”
However, the business was closed after body camera footage from the police officers who arrived Sept. 4 to help disperse patrons showed crowds larger than eight people gathered, few people wearing facemasks, a lack of social distancing as well as over-capacity issues, Neiley said Thursday after the hearing. When police conducted a spot check the next night, the only violation they found was that Sandler himself not wearing a facemask, he said.
“That’s why the public health director is emphatic that the ability of the business going forward must have Andrew Sandler personally committing to social distancing and facemasks,” Neiley said.
In addition to Sandler’s personal commitment to adhere to public health order rules, Neiley also laid out several other conditions Scarlett’s must follow in order to be allowed to open. Those include a visit by Public Health Director Karen Koenemann and her staff before the restaurant opens Monday to ensure a site safety plan submitted this week is properly implemented.
Once that is done, public health staff will make weekly site inspections for at least the first month of operation to ensure the guidelines remain in practice, Neiley said. The site visits can be stopped when Koenemann feels they’re no longer necessary.
Finally, before Scarlett’s implements any future changes allowed or mandated by state or county public health orders — loosening or strengthening restrictions — management must reach out to the public health staff and discuss how the changes will happen, Neiley said.
Koenemann said she also wanted Scarlett’s to commit to following public health instructions on isolation or quarantine if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 or is part of a contact tracing investigation, as well as strictly adhere to state public health orders.
Sandler and Bryan said the business would follow all mandates.
Scarlett’s recently submitted a two-and-a-half-page site safety plan that Bryan said goes above and beyond what most restaurants are currently doing. The measures will include hiring security inside and outside the business to enforce social distancing and facemask wearing, install partitions between tables and rope off tables to prevent groups larger than 10 from gathering.
Bryan pointed out that Scarlett’s was closed down after trying to do the right thing and calling police to assist in public health violations. He asked if management should continue to do so at the risk of their own business.
Neiley said that while the call to police mitigated the case against Scarlett’s, it was up to the business and not police to comply with public health orders.
“Law enforcement isn’t a substitute for implementing compliance measures with the public health order,” he said.
Neiley also noted that the county is devoting an “incredible application of” time and money to solving the problems with Scarlett’s.
Later Thursday afternoon at the Pitkin County Board of Health meeting, one member suggested fining Sandler harshly for “endangering lives.”
“Why don’t we make this an example?” Brent Miller said. “What’s wrong with having a strong fine schedule?”
Koenemann confirmed that Sandler and Scarlett’s have not been fined at all and that the department believes that keeping the business closed for 30 days has “an equal punitive effect.” Further, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said a District Court judge, not the county, would decide on any fine up to $5,000 after what would likely be a lengthy legal process.
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