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Tennessee distilleries asking for Governor's help to survive economically through COVID-19 outbreak

More than 6.6 million people visit the state's distilleries each year.

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Sevier County has requested the Tennessee Department of Health issue orders for restaurants and bars. It would close bars and limit restaurant occupancy by half.

The city of Knoxville has already done this. It took place earlier in the week. 

Millions visit Tennessee distilleries every year. With more practicing self distancing and staying home, losing the tourism aspect has the distilleries trying to find new ways to make up for the loss. 

"We want to be here in the community when we get through this on the other side," said Kris Tatum, president of the Tennessee Distillers Guild and distillery manager at Old Forge Distillery. 

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36 distilleries make up the Tennessee Distillers Guild, which represents 99% of all liquor made in the state. 14 of those are in the east region. It's a big industry.

"We have over 6.6 million people visit our distilleries a year, that translates into the taxes we pay," said Tatum who also mentioned 54% of all spirits that leave the country come from the state. 

He's calling for Governor Bill Lee's help. "The Governor needs to acknowledge this, support small businesses and our industry through the executive order."

Tatum says the distilleries are hurting and will hurt even more as long as this continues. He's urging the governor to use an executive order to defer their tax payments. "It would allow us to pay employees, provide take out services or sanitize."

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Tatum along with other distilleries like Post Modern Spirits are working on ways to make up for the "substantial" losses but still need a lot of help. 

"We're making hand sanitizer to give back to the community. That's what the Governor needs to see, we're adapting and overcoming and pivoting for the good of our communities and he needs to do the same things for us."

In response to the current situation, Old Forge Distillery has started production of sanitizer as directed by World Health Organization guidelines. In our continued effort to support the hospitality industry, Old Forge has partnered with the Pottery House Café and The Old Mill Restaurant at The Old Mill to provide one bottle of hand sanitizer with every to-go order from now until further notice.

Additionally, Old Forge Distillery is currently working with numerous area businesses, organizations and health facilities to provide bulk sanitizer as well as cleaning solutions for surfaces, equipment and machinery.

State lawmakers will not be back in session until June 1. 

Tatum hopes when they do return, they'll work on the issue through a legislative perspective. He's calling on the Alcoholic Beverage Commission to help too. 

If you would like to help Knoxville service industry employees, you can find more information here.

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