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No Vaccine, No Beer, No Show: Kansas City Venues Require Proof Of COVID-19 Vaccination

A sign taped to the front door of Woody's KC alerts customers that they will have to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A sign taped to the front door of Woody's KC alerts customers that they will have to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

LGBTQ-friendly bars Hamburger Mary's KC and Woody's KC announced on Sunday that they would require proof of vaccination for patrons. On Monday, The Ship and KC Improv Company followed suit.

At least four Kansas City establishments have immediate plans to require proof that customers are vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to entry.

From New Orleans to New York City, a growing number of entertainment venues are requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to attend live events.

LGBTQ-friendly bars Hamburger Mary's KC and Woody's KC announced their decision Sunday evening and The Ship in the West Bottoms area and The KC Improv Company followed suit on Monday.

Jeff Edmondson, managing owner of Hamburger Mary’s KC and Woody’s KC, said implementing a vaccine requirement was “the right thing to do” as the highly-transmissible delta variant continues to spread across the state.

"Due to the recent upward trend in COVID-19 cases locally, we are implementing the following policy to keep our staff, customers, musicians and DJs safe," The Ship said in a Facebook post Monday.

The Ship's vaccine requirement will apply on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Starting Friday, The KC Improv Company said it will only be allowing vaccinated people to attend its shows in order to perform on stage without masks.

“A foundation of improv is support and respect for the people around you. In that spirit, let's all help one another, protect one another, and defeat the virus,” The KC Improv Company said in a Facebook post.

Mask mandates hurt business

Edmondson said he was worried about the risk of spreading the virus if patrons remove masks while seated at Hamburger Mary’s.

“If people come in who aren't vaccinated, and we all have our masks off, even if we're six feet apart, the delta variant is much more virulent. Six feet apart doesn't quite separate you,” Edmondson said.

The decision was also driven by Kansas City’s move to reinstate its mask mandate on Monday. Under the order, masks are not required for gatherings where everyone is vaccinated.

So if everyone in an establishment can prove they've been vaccinated, the masks can come off.

Edmondson said even with a mask order, spacing tables six feet apart would put the bars back at 50% capacity. He said he hopes the vaccine requirement will let them continue to go maskless and function at full capacity.

Edmondson said the establishments struggled to stay afloat after the pandemic shut down businesses and forced them to reopen under reduced capacity. He said he only managed to catch up on bills after establishments were permitted to return to full capacity.

“Going backwards, going back to 50% capacity means I've got to put a halt on any plans we had for expansion or doing different things. I'm not prepared to do that, I'd rather stay at 100% capacity if we can,” Edmondson.

Edmondson said they haven't had to make a vaccine requirement for employees at Hamburger Mary's, since all workers have already gotten their shot. But one worker remains unvaccinated at Woody's, who Edmondson said he'll be meeting with on Tuesday night.

If the employee decides not to get vaccinated, Edmondson said they'll have to put them on a temporary leave of absence.

Jeff Edmondson, the general manager at Hamburger Mary's and Woody's KC talks Monday about requiring mandatory masks for patrons and workers at the different venues.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Jeff Edmondson, the general manager at Hamburger Mary's and Woody's KC talks Monday about requiring mandatory masks for patrons and workers at the different venues.

Mixed reaction to the new rule

Edmondson said the announcement drew an unprecedented audience to Hamburger Mary’s Facebook page, but responses were mixed between the two establishments’ fanbases.

Edmondson said Hamburger Mary's has an audience of mostly straight women compared to Woody’s, whose clientele is primarily LGBTQ people.

Edmondson said the percentage of people that would be vaccinated at Woody's is higher than Hamburger Mary’s. According to theKaiser Family Foundation, only 1 in 10 LGBT people did not plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

The announcement from Hamburger Mary’s drew more negative responses. Some patrons responded on Facebook that they won’t be returning or that they’re cancelling reservations.

Despite the backlash, Edmondson said he stands by his decision.

“It could backfire on us, certainly on our social media that people are wishing that we’ll go out of business because of this decision,” Edmondson said. “But by and large, I think it's the right thing to do and I think it will pay off in the end because I think the overall response to our decision has been positive.”

Edmondson said he’s encouraging other businesses, restaurants and bars to follow his lead in implementing vaccine mandates, especially if they are frustrated with the new mask mandate or lack of vaccinated people in the area.

Starting on Tuesday, proof of vaccination and a photo ID will be needed to enter either establishment. Customers will need their original Covid-19 vaccination certificate, a photocopy of it, or a high resolution photo of it on their phone.

The Ship, a bar in the West Bottoms, is requiring vaccine documentation for customers on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Customers will need a photo ID, vaccination card, a digital vaccine record or proof of a negative COVID test within 48 hours of a show.

The KC Improv Company said that all of the performers on stage will be vaccinated. The venue is offering refunds to ticket-holders now unable to attend shows, including for children who remain ineligible for vaccination.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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