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Calwise Spirits Co. gets warning from ABC after operating indoors

Posted at 6:58 PM, Aug 28, 2020

A Paso Robles business owner is speaking out after defying state and county public health guidelines by opening inside.

Last weekend, Calwise Spirits Co. moved customers inside due to triple-digit temperatures mixed with unhealthy air quality from wildfires burning across the state.

If they do it again, owner Aaron Bergh could have to pay thousands of dollars in fines, lose his liquor license, and be charged with a misdemeanor.

“It's like I'm in between a rock and a hard place,” Bergh said. “We either close down and we don't make money or we open up and we get fined."

He said he and his staff took safety measures while working inside.

“We were all wearing masks, we were sanitizing surfaces constantly, we had all of our tables spaced apart so there was social distancing,” Bergh said.

He said he got off with a stern warning from the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control after someone filed a complaint.

“For now we are going to have to follow things from the book and just have to be open outdoors and play by the rules,” he said.

When a complaint is made, an enforcement officer will follow up with the business owner to make sure alcohol is not being consumed indoors, employees are wearing masks and social distancing is not blatantly being ignored.

As of Monday, August 24, ABC Agents have made over 47,950 site visits in California since the beginning of July when ABC started doing work with the California Office of Emergency Services Task Force to enforce COVID-19 health orders.

ABC agents have issued only 120 citations during that time. Two were in Santa Barbara County. There were none in San Luis Obispo County.

Almost all of those citations were issued because of indoor dining and alcohol consumption, according to ABC.

Bergh took to Facebook to express the hardships of doing business during the pandemic.

One woman decided to check out the distillery on Ramada Dr. after seeing his post.

“I was devastated for them trying to find a way to stay open and stay afloat,” said Nancy Garza, a first-time customer. “They are doing the best they can with regulations changing almost daily. It's hard enough so we have to go out and support our local businesses."

Bergh hopes there's more relief for business owners on the way.

"I felt it was important for people to know what businesses are going through,” Bergh said. “I also wanted to inspire businesses and other folk to think about it and question it and really approach this whole thing with a rational mind."

Officials with ABC said in an email to KSBY, “ABC prefers educational outreach and voluntary compliance over enforcement action, but it will take enforcement action for egregious violations, and for businesses that refuse to comply with state health orders.”

After seeing some of the worst air quality in the country last week, the mayor of Paso Robles submitted a letter to Governor Newsom asking for an indoor dining exception, but nothing has come of it yet.