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Tucson restaurants now allowed to serve as pop-up grocery stores

Tucson restaurants now allowed to serve as pop-up grocery stores

From the April's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: 1,200+ Pima County cases, stay-home order extended series

Several Tucson restaurants had already converted to makeshift markets, including Hotel Congress, selling everything from toilet paper to flour and eggs to home meal kits.

Restaurants in Tucson will temporarily be allowed to act as pop-up grocery stores, selling packaged food, fresh produce, paper goods and cleaning supplies, after a pair of announcements this week from Gov. Doug Ducey and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero.

The move was made to help local restaurants across the state offset losses as a result of the closure of dining areas as a result of the spread of COVID-19, according to Ducey, who issued a proclamation Tuesday.

The order, which is in effect until further notice and will be revised or renewed every two weeks, allows restaurants to resell items they bought wholesale to the general public without having to comply with normal labeling requirements.

It does not permit a restaurant that does not hold a current license from the Arizona Department of Liquor Licensing and Control to sell alcoholic beverages.

“Even with dine-in and carry-out options still available to patrons, many Arizona restaurants are struggling due to COVID-19,” Ducey said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “Today’s executive order provides flexibility for restaurant owners to safely sell prepared and bulk foods or supplies they have on hand and can’t use right now. We are proud to support Arizona restaurants with this reform.”

The practice of restaurants converting to pop-up grocery stores has been prevalent in a number of other cities, including Los Angeles. There, the county health department shut down the operations of some for operating outside the scope of their permits.

On Wednesday, Romero allowed restaurants to adhere to Ducey’s changes without having to update their certificates of occupancy or businesses licenses. Businesses are required to collect sales tax on the packaged foods, which have to be labeled in accordance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidance.

“Our restaurant community is at the heart of Tucson’s cultural, social and economic fabric,” Romero said in a prepared statement. “I encourage all Tucsonans to continue rallying around our restaurants by ordering takeout, purchasing gift cards, and now, by visiting them for their grocery needs.”

Several Tucson restaurants had already converted to makeshift markets, including Hotel Congress, Ghini’s French Caffe, Dante’s Fire, and LemonShark Poke, selling everything from toilet paper to flour and eggs to home meal kits.

Romero noted that the local moves were made in consultation with the Tucson City of Gastronomy’s Board of Directors.

“As a chef and Tucson City of Gastronomy Board President, I appreciate and support this change in public policy,” said Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails chef/owner Janos Wilder in a prepared statement. “It will promote public safety and allow our restaurants to be another needed resource during these trying times.”

The moves were otherwise applauded by James McLaughlin, head of the local food workers union, which represents 24,000 employees across the state, who said he supports the politicians’ “sense of entrepreneurial acumen.”

“For a small business, it makes sense to sell inventory and generate revenue for the business,” he said. “Nobody views these restaurants as real grocery stores but, under the circumstances, they fill a need to assist in the neighborhoods they serve. …

“When the current crisis is behind us, these temporary set-ups will go back to operating as restaurants using the inventory to prepare food and probably won’t be selling products as groceries,” he said.

Contact reporter Justin Sayers at jsayers1@tucson.com or 573-4192. Twitter: @_JustinSayers. Facebook: JustinSSayers.

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