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How one North London Arsenal pub has survived the coronavirus shut down

The Tollington Arms is carefully starting to welcome back Arsenal fans after being closed for months due to COIVD-19.

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I am fortunate enough to have attended a number of Arsenal matches over the years. Every trip to the Emirates has always included pre- and post-match visits to some of the local pubs popular with supporters.

The fact that football fans are still unable to attend matches, along with rules on social gatherings, has been a double blow to the UK’s hospitality industry.

My favorite pub close to the Emirates is The Tollington Arms. It’s been a Gooner mainstay since opening in 2006 and is always packed on match days. I wanted to find out how the pub is surviving during the continuing pandemic shutdowns. Here’s what I learned from my research. I reached out to the owner but didn’t hear back, which given the pandemic, doesn’t surprise me.

Just like here in the US, bars and restaurants across the UK stopped serving indoor customers back in March. No one knew then how long this would go on for (sadly we still don’t know as restrictions continue).

In an attempt to help small businesses, the British government proposed a three-month freeze on rent payments for businesses like pubs. Unfortunately for Tollington owner Martin Whelan, his landlord has continued to demand monthly rent. Whelan has now involved lawyers as he battles to stay afloat during the shutdown.

Over the summer Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that bars and restaurants would be able to reopen on July 4th with certain restrictions.

However, with the virus still spreading Whelan made a difficult decision. He felt that he could not “in good conscience open the pub when contracting a deadly virus is still possible under these guidelines”. He also posted the following on the Tollington’s Facebook page:

It’s with a heavy heart that we must announce that we won’t be opening ‪on the 4th of July under the Guidelines which the Government has released this week.

It’s our belief that the government are ignoring the advice that science is telling us.

We cannot in good conscience open the pub when contracting a deadly virus is still possible under these Guidelines.

By the government’s own admission, on average, 1 in 20 people has this virus.

We care too much about our staff and our customers to risk rushing back, thus contributing to a second wave of this pandemic.

We hope to open our doors in the near future when it is safe to do so.

In the meantime, stay safe.

Regular patrons appreciated the fact that Whelan put customer safety ahead of profits. Here’s a sample response to the Tollington’s posting from customer Gloria Ann Smith.

Refreshing to know that there is someone who shows great responsibility and thought for others even to their own personal detriment.

Wish more would understand and appreciate your approach.

Well Done & Stay Safe.

The good news is that The Tollington reopened in time for Arsenal’s first match of the new season away to Fulham. Of course this comes with specific restrictions as announced by the UK Government. As of September 14th it is illegal in England to gather in groups of more than six. The rule of six will be in effect both indoors and outdoors. It’s unclear how businesses will be able to enforce this but for pubs such as The Tollington and football fans it’s a step in the right direction towards a sense of normalcy.