Bars and Restaurants Peel Cash From Walls to Help Idled Workers

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As stay-at-home orders took effect to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many restaurants and bars had to temporarily close or switch to delivery and takeout only, forcing owners to lay off or furlough employees.

But instead of hitting walls in search of ways to help, some bar owners are scaling them — carefully removing dollar bills that were taped or stapled there over the years and donating them to their employees.

Here is a look at some of them.

Tybee Island, Ga.

The Sand Bar usually bustles with customers looking for $2 Jell-O shots, tater tots and live music.

New and repeat customers have been writing “love notes” on dollar bills and taping or stapling them to the walls of the business in this barrier island city about 18 miles from Savannah.

But at the end of March, after the Sand Bar’s owner, Jennifer Knox, had to temporarily close, she said she began looking for a way to help her unemployed staff.

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Credit…Sand Bar

“We were looking and the answers are on the wall,” Ms. Knox said on Saturday. She described the work as a “labor of love.”

Using a flat-head screwdriver, pliers and staple removers, it took five volunteers more than three days to strip the walls of its dollar bills.

“It looked like I tried to bathe a large cat because I had cuts all over me” from removing staples from the bills, she said, laughing.

Volunteers stood on table tops and ladders to reach the money. Notes on the bills included “Love yo momma” and a reminder to tip the bartenders. It took a week to clean and count the cash.

In all, $3,714 was pulled off the walls, in addition to foreign currency, Ms. Knox said. A Facebook video from the bar showed two rows of stacked bills wrapping around the counter. Customers donated an additional $390 as word circulated about what the bar was doing.

Ms. Knox said she paid her four bartenders and two musicians $600 each. One bartender donated her portion to another bartender in the city.

Last week, a donor from Arizona matched the original amount, so Ms. Knox said she distributed envelopes with $500 each to other local bartenders and musicians

“We have been so moved,” she said. “We are all in this together.”

North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Since 1989, customers have followed a tradition of taping dollar bills to the cedar walls of Hamburger Joe’s in this beach city about 120 miles north of Charleston.

They signed the bills with their names and the date. People also marked the dates of special events held there, such as bachelorette parties. Children doodled flowers on the bills and sports fans sketched panthers after the North Carolina football team.

The dollar décor has been part of the draw at the restaurant, which is known for its “all-the-way cheeseburgers” loaded with coleslaw, onions, mustard and chili.

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Credit…Hamburger Joe’s

The seasonal eatery usually has about 80 employees, but after the coronavirus shutdown, only about 14 were left.

Richard Brooks, a general manager of Hamburger Joe’s and a son of its owner, had to lay off some employees as the restaurant shifted from seating 150 to takeout and curbside service. Some workers also left voluntarily because they were worried about their health.

After hearing about the Sand Bar in Georgia, customers suggested that Mr. Brooks do the same.

“We never thought we’d take them all down,” Mr. Brooks said. “It was the time.”

But it wasn’t easy.

Some of the bills were 20 feet high on a wall. It took about four days and 10 volunteers to carefully peel away the bills.

“I didn’t think it would take this long, but 30 years and 5,000 square feet of dollar bills add up I guess,” he said.

Mr. Brooks estimated that $8,000 to $10,000 was collected. Last week, he brought the bills to his bank, where tellers were still tallying them and trying to piece together the ones that were torn and weathered.

“I am hoping that 90 percent are salvageable,” he said.

Mr. Brooks said he would not know how much he would give each employee until the count is done.

“We plan on giving 100 percent, whatever that may be,” he said.

In the meantime, he has already given employees grocery store gift cards.

“We are not going to let them go hungry or homeless,” he said. “We have been blessed.”

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

When the Hott Leggz sports bar closed last month because of the coronavirus, its owners laid off 22 of its 25 employees as the business transitioned to takeout and delivery.

But an owner, Juliana Sodre, said she found inspiration in the marked-up and wrinkled bills inside the 2,500-square-foot establishment.

For the past nine years, patrons have posted dollars that lined the columns and interior walls after ordering crab legs, wings and beer. Notes written on the bills range from “Coral loves Navid” and “Da Bears,” for the Chicago Bears, to simply “buy a flashlight.”

“I used to tell my business partner all the time: ‘Save for a rainy day. If something goes wrong, we are literally sitting on money,’” Ms. Sodre said. “So this pandemic counts as a rainy day.”

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Credit…Hott Leggz

Wearing masks, 10 people, including the bar’s co-owner, Ky Novak, began to carefully remove, clean and count the bills on March 21. They delivered the last batch to the bank on Friday. The total: about $10,000.

“It’s a lot of money in the big scheme but when you split it between employees, unfortunately, it’s not that much,” Ms. Sodre said. “If we can take the pressure from them even if it’s for a week or two, we know that we have done something good.”

The owners plan to continue the tradition of allowing customers to post dollars bills on the walls after the restaurant fully reopens.

“Everybody who comes in here to pick up food,” Ms. Sodre said, “they can’t wait to get back here and post another dollar on the wall.”

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