NASHVILLE, Tn. (WKRN) – Several restaurant and bar owners have responded to Mayor John Cooper’s mandate to close amid COVID-19 precautions, calling it unconstitutional and vowing to remain open.

Robert’s Western World and Layla’s tell News 2 they will comply, but they are also wondering why they wouldn’t be able to operate their restaurants.

“We have a lot of wonderful staff that have families and homes to take care of and bills to pay, this is how they make their money, and we don’t have a choice, if the city says to close, we will comply, but that doesn’t mean we’re happy about it,” said General Manager of Robert’s Western World Emily Cousins.

“Roberts is very well known for our grill, in fact, at night, we are fact because people will only come in looking for food, so that’s something we could fight it because we pay taxes as a restaurant,” Cousins said.

An official statement from Steve Smith, owner of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Rippy’s, Honky Tonk Central, Kid Rock’s Honky Tonk Steakhouse and the Diner reads, in part:

“We appreciate the efforts of Mayor Cooper to combat the COVID-19 virus, but unless there’s a statewide mandate that directs all bars and restaurants to be closed, the request made by mayor cooper is unconstitutional as he is targeting a select group of businesses.”

The Downtown Merchant Association also weighed in releasing their own statement, which reads:

“We have not been presented with any type of city or state financial assistance that would allow us freedom from having to pay property taxes and liquor taxes owed on products sold last month. Perhaps some operators will choose to close but the vast majority have said “the show will go on”.

The statement went on to say: “We are compassionate with those who have contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus and all who are helping manage the crisis as the entire world addresses the outbreak. However, a Tootsie’s patron as immediate as last night, mentioned having lived through the polio epidemic and didn’t recall such extreme measures being handed down in history.

Barrett Hobbs, operating partner of several bars and Chairman of the Merchants Association, said in an email: “In talking with fellow operators the consensus seems to be that Broadway will not be closing. This is not in defiance of Mayor Cooper but in the protection of our musicians and employees.

Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, reacted to Mayor Cooper’s call for action: “We are in full support of the decision of the Mayor and Metro Nashville Board of Health regarding bars and restaurants. Any short-term mitigation to slow the spread of this virus is invaluable to our long-term recovery and more importantly the health and safety of our community. We understand the hardship this may cause the thousands of frontline employees and hundreds of businesses, and we are working with local, state and federal officials in an effort to provide direct relief as soon as possible.”

Nashville is one of America’s greatest cities and we will survive and thrive after this passes.”

Mayor Cooper said in a release Sunday afternoon he would be asking the following:
(1) Bars on Lower Broadway and throughout Davidson County to close their businesses until further notice;
(2) Restaurants (public facilities where the sale of food comprises more than 50 percent of revenue) to limit their regular maximum seating to under 50 percent of capacity, capped at no more than 100 individuals allowed.
(3) Bar service at restaurants should be limited to 50 percent of capacity with no standing allowed.

Cooper called the measures short term and added, “We also are asking restaurants to take social distancing precautions, including the spacing out of tables for customers. We are encouraging restaurants to remain open as both a measure of social well-being and because of their important role in helping to feed our community. We appreciate the businesses, churches, schools, sporting event organizers, and all other organizations that have closed or taken actions on social distancing. These actions are consistent with other best practices being rolled out in Chicago, Washington, DC, New Orleans, and other major cities nationwide. Nashville is a leading destination in both global tourism and healthcare, and it is our responsibility to set an example in keeping our community safe.”