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Bar owners discuss their switch to vaccinated-only policy in July

The owners of The Merry Shelley in Buffalo decided to check vaccine cards at the door this past July and will keep that policy instead of requiring masks.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — If Erie County does move on to Phase 2 December 13, vaccines would be required to enter some places, including bars and restaurants.

But some Erie County bars have already been requiring vaccines to enter for months. The Merry Shelley on Hertel Avenue started that policy in July. 

The bar opened in January for takeout only, and they say going to vaccinated-only made sense for them.

"So no judgment from us, but we, being a vaccinated-only bar, allows for us to not have to be mask cops again, and because our space is so small, unfortunately masking and not masking is almost pointless at this point. Everybody, the difference between standing and sitting is so nominal, and nobody wants to go back to masking," owner Karma Smallback said.

The Merry Shelley is a small space. The full capacity is 40, and they have seating for 20, so when The Merry Shelley opened for indoor dining, they had vintage windows set-up dividing everyone. 

When they started the policy of checking vaccine cards at the door in July, the staff members checking ID and vaccine cards did not have any problems, and they haven't had issues since then. 

"Generally, the consensus is that everyone's really relieved about that and has been. We get a lot of really positive feedback like, 'Thank you so much for doing this. I feel really comfortable being here. You are the first bar that I've been out to,' is something that we've heard a lot," Smallback said.

"And some people say we're the only bar they go to, which is also awesome. And as for advice for other bars, I know there's a handful of other bars that are doing it now in Buffalo, and we're all going to get some sort of negative feedback from people no matter what we do, so I just feel like they're doing the right thing in order to keep their patrons safe and their staff safe."

They say the crucial thing is to make people feel safe, and that's why they started doing the vaccinated-only policy in July. 

They said they were either the first bar in Buffalo to do it or one of the first. 

They are also overwhelmed by the support from the neighborhood and from people from all over the state who have visited since they opened for indoor dining.

During his Wednesday news conference, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said it's the decision of the bar or restaurant owner and if you have a policy where only vaccinated guests are allowed, they don't have to wear masks.