‘You feel like you’re being social — and responsible’: These Americans turned their garages into bars

Some Americans don’t have far to go to have a drink in a bar.

Michael and Lauren Lerman consider themselves outgoing. That’s why they’ve been hanging out a lot in their garage lately. As the coronavirus outbreak turns life upside down, the South Orange, N.J. couple has turned their two-car garage into a bar.

There’s hand sanitizer by the vodka and an oscillating fan to keep air blowing out the open bay doors. Guests can have individually-wrapped snacks and drink from paper cups.

The Lermans’ bar has hand sanitizer by the vodka and a fan to keep the air moving out the door.

“You feel like you’re being social,” said Lauren. “And responsible,” Michael added.

In Seattle, Wash., Matt Rarity is transforming his greenhouse into a speakeasy he can use with the families he’s been quarantining with since March.

It will include a flat-screen television, card table, dart board, walls festooned with sports team flags and a portable hand washing station. It’s supposed to be a “men’s club” for the husbands, but Rarity says the wives are also eyeing the space.

Matt Rarity in his Seattle speakeasy, which was once his greenhouse.

Courtesy Matt Rarity

“I’m sure there will be a battle for who gets what days,” he told MarketWatch.

It’s difficult to say how many people like the Lermans and Rarity are converting home space into watering holes. But Twitter

and Instagram

are dotted with mentions of newly-minted garage bars.

Garage bars pre-date COVID-19, but this round of bars fit a broader pattern. In the face of the pandemic, many people have been enhancing their homes to get some break from the monotony during a summer with far fewer options for fun.

These personal garage bars fulfill a unique role: They are sprouting up as concern grows over the real ones.

It’s not just garage bars either. Backyard pool sales have been hot. More than 70% of Americans are planning home improvement projects, according to a Bank of America

survey. Lowe’s

beat first quarter profit expectations, powered by customers tackling do-it-yourself tasks.

But these personal garage bars fulfill a unique role: They are sprouting up as concern grows over the real ones. With infection rates climbing in many places, states like Texas and Arizona are closing bars and other public spaces for the second time.

“Congregation at a bar inside is bad news. We really got to stop that right now, when you have areas that are surging like we see right now,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told senators on Tuesday.

‘This is not a work space, this is a fun space’

The idea for the Lermans’ bar sprang from an argument their teenage daughters were having over the backyard trampoline (which pre-dated the pandemic).

Their older daughter, Carly, recommended clearing out the garage for more space. Until then, the garage was “the biggest dump. It was furniture on top of crap, on top of other crap,” Michael, 56, said.

They cleared the 400 square-foot space and weeks later visited a friend who had a pool and a cabana bar. A family friend at the gathering, Daniel Teitelbaum, 18, said he could build a bar for the Lermans.

Teitelbaum used reclaimed wood from a barn, shipping palettes and corrugated metal; the student told MarketWatch he already has a lead on another garage bar job.

Michael Lerman tests his free throw skills.

Andrew Keshner

The Lermans added amenities like a television from BestBuy

for $130 and a $180 Pop-a-Shot basketball game on eBay
Tapestries cover the wall and there’s a couch on the way. “I wanted to populate this with fun stuff,” said Michael, a real-estate developer.

The biggest expense was a hot tub, which is something the kids have always wanted. Michael wasn’t willing to pay for an expensive new one, so he found a six-month-old, lightly-used hot tub on eBay. It cost $1,500 to purchase and $2,000 to ship from its previous Wisconsin owner.

The entire project has cost approximately $5,000, but the Lermans say it’s been worth it.

With the line blurring between professional and domestic duties, the bar is a refuge from all that.

With professional and domestic duties mushing together in the rest of the house, the bar is a refuge from all that. “This is not a work space, this is a fun space,” said Lauren, 53, who works in publishing.

It’s been open for two weeks and getting steady use. The Lermans’ oldest daughter graduated from high school, but didn’t have a prom and there’s no word on a real-life graduation ceremony. So she had a small party in the space with a couple friends instead.

The Lermans don’t invite too many people over at a time.They can entertain two other couples and still keep a comfortable distance.

Once the pandemic ends, they want to maintain their beloved bar. “Some day we’ll sell this house. Some day. And hopefully [the buyers are] going to see the value of this too,” Michael said. “Or, they’ll turn it back into a garage,” Lauren said.

A garage bar isn’t a guaranteed home value boost, according to Amanda Pendleton, Zillow

Home Trends Expert. Some buyers will love it, but others will see it as a renovation project they’ll need to accomplish to restore the space to its original purpose, she said.

“Consider this project an investment in your happiness and your enjoyment of your home, but don’t expect to earn the money back when it comes time to sell,” she said.

‘An alternative way for us to connect’

Rarity’s family and two other families will start using the re-purposed greenhouse over the July Fourth weekend.

Rarity’s greenhouse, before he poured in his ‘sweat equity’ to convert the space.

Courtesy Matt Rarity

Rarity and his wife have long been planning a house remodeling. About two months ago, a friend casually remarked they could turn the approximately 300 square-foot greenhouse into a bar.

The speakeasy started with ‘a month of back-and-forth dude banter.’

That sparked “a month of back-and-forth dude banter,” which grew into real-life renovation plans, Rarity said.

Rarity, who works in telecommunications, spent between 20 to 30 hours clearing out the greenhouse and building benches.

The biggest expense so far has been the $320 kegorator. Fellow speakeasy users are donating the 60-inch flat-screen television and Rarity is using an old refrigerator he had lying around. The portable handwashing station costs $170.

“All of it has been sweat equity,” he said.

Now Rarity is ready for a pint and good times. “All the bars are shut down. You can’t go out and comfortably have a drink with friends.”

A garage bar, he said, seemed like a no-brainer: “This became an alternative way for us to connect.”

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Reddit bans ‘The_Donald’ forum amid broad social media crackdown By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Reddit mascots are displayed at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco


By Elizabeth Culliford and Katie Paul

(Reuters) – Social media site Reddit on Monday shut down r/The_Donald, a forum which long served as a popular online home base for fans of President Donald Trump, saying it violated the site’s hate speech rules.

Other sites also conducted high-profile sweeps: Amazon.com Inc’s (O:) live-streaming platform Twitch temporarily banned Trump’s official channel, saying it violated Twitch’s policy on hateful speech, while Google (NASDAQ:)’s YouTube suspended six leading white nationalist accounts.

Reddit Chief Executive Steve Huffman said in a post detailing changes to the company’s content policies that communities and users promoting hate would be barred. Reddit was banning about 2,000 subreddits, the majority of which were inactive, he said.

In response to the actions by Reddit and Twitch, a Trump campaign spokesman directed people to Trump’s campaign app “to hear directly from the president.” He did not directly address the sites’ actions.

Huffman said earlier this month that Reddit would strengthen its content policy, after Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from the firm’s board and former CEO Ellen Pao criticized its handling of r/The_Donald.

Reddit had “quarantined” the forum last year, citing threats of violence.

The new list of banned subreddits also included the left-wing r/ChapoTrapHouse, which Huffman said consistently hosted rule-breaking content. It had an average of 42,949 daily active users, according to Reddit.

Reddit’s list showed r/The_Donald had an average of 7,780 daily active users, down from its heyday around the 2016 presidential election when it regularly drew hundreds of thousands of visitors each day.

Only about 200 of the banned forums listed by Reddit had more than 10 daily users.

“All communities on Reddit must abide by our content policy in good faith. We banned r/The_Donald because it has not done so, despite every opportunity,” Huffman said.


Social media companies’ content policies have been in the spotlight this month, as Facebook Inc (O:) faced an employee walkout and an ad boycott over its hands-off handling of inflammatory posts amid nationwide anti-racism protests and ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Earlier this month, Twitter Inc (N:) began placing some of Trump’s messages behind warning labels, while Snap Inc (N:) said it would no longer promote Trump’s account in its Discover section.

YouTube said Monday it was terminating six accounts widely credited with building support for far-right views online over hate speech violations, including channels run by Richard Spencer, Stefan Molyneux and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Molyneux tweeted in response that YouTube had suspended “the largest philosophy conversation the world has ever known.” Spencer said he would appeal the decision.

Twitch, a site primarily used for video game livestreaming which Trump joined in October, said it had identified two streams from Trump’s account that violated its policies.

One was a rebroadcast of a 2016 rally in which Trump said Mexico was sending rapists to the United States. The other was of his rally in Tulsa earlier this month, when he hypothesized about a “very tough hombre” breaking into a woman’s house.

A Twitch spokeswoman said the platform had told “the president’s team” last year that there were no exceptions on the site for political or newsworthy content that broke its rules.

In May, Twitch announced a new advisory council to improve safety, focusing on areas like harassment and protection of marginalized groups.

Last week, it said it would begin issuing permanent suspensions as part of investigations into allegations of sexual abuse and harassment involving Twitch streamers.[L1N2CW0LE]

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Starbucks to pause paid advertising across social media to help stop hate speech By Reuters

© Reuters. A Starbucks store sign is shown during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Valparaiso

(Reuters) – Starbucks Corp (O:) will pause advertising on all social media platforms as it explores the best ways to help stop the spread of hate speech, the company said in a statement on Sunday.

The company will “have discussions internally and with media partners and civil rights organizations to stop the spread of hate speech,” the statement https://stories.starbucks.com/stories/2020/creating-welcoming-and-inclusive-online-communities said.

A CNBC report https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/28/starbucks-latest-company-to-pause-ads-across-social-media-platforms.html on Sunday added that this social media pause by Starbucks will not include YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet Inc’s (O:) Google. It will continue to post on social media without paid promotion.

It also said that though Starbucks is pausing advertising, it is not joining the “Stop Hate For Profit” boycott campaign, which kicked off earlier this month.

More than 160 companies, including Verizon Communications (N:) and Unilever Plc (L:), signed on to stop buying ads on Facebook Inc (O:), the world’s largest social media platform.

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Social Security’s Average Wage Index likely to decline in 2020

I need to add a word about the potential impact on Social Security benefits from the pandemic and the shutdown of the economy. Specifically, following a point made by Andrew Biggs, I argued that to the extent that COVID-19 results in a decline in average earnings in 2020, those born in 1960 (who turn 60 in 2020) could receive permanently lower benefits than they would have otherwise. The loss would arise because past earnings and the benefit formula are adjusted by Social Security’s Average Wage Index. A lower value for the Average Wage Index in 2020 would produce the lower than expected benefits.

I then backpedaled on the outlook for 2020 wages when the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment report showed that average weekly earnings of private sector workers in April 2020 were 7.0% higher than in April 2019. Indeed, average weekly earnings rose again in May, as continued job losses occurred among the lower paid.

Linking a discussion of the Average Wage Index to average weekly earnings, however, was a mistake — revealing that I didn’t really understand how Social Security calculates the Average Wage Index. Conceptually, it sounds simple — all wages subject to the personal income tax plus contributions to deferred contribution plans divided by the number of workers. The important point, as a friendly critic pointed out, is that it is based on earnings for the whole year. The fact that the average wage increased between March and April doesn’t say anything about what will happen to the Average Wage Index.

The only way I could get it straight in my own head was to construct an example. Assume we have an economy with nine workers — three earning $100,000 on a full-year basis, three earning 50,000, and three earning $20,000 (see Table 1). In the first half of the year, all nine workers were employed and earned a total of $255,000. The average wage in the first half of the year is $255,000 divided by nine workers or $28,333 ($56,667 on an annual basis). In the second half of the year, the number of workers in the two lower wage groups dropped from three to two. Total earnings declined from $255,000 to $220,000, but with only seven instead of nine workers, average earnings rose to $31,428 ($62,857 on an annual basis).

But, in this scenario with rising average wages, what is the Average Wage Index? The numerator is the total wages earned in the economy over the year, $ 475,000 ($225,000 + $220,000). The denominator is the total number of people employed during the year, which in this example is nine. Thus, despite a rise in the average wage from the first half of the year to the second, the Average Wage Index drops, assuming that the average wage last year was the same as the first quarter this year.

I recognize that this explanation has required an agonizing array of numbers, but if it clears up the confusion for only one person, it will have been worth it. The exercise also suggests that the Average Wage Index could be down substantially this year. The denominator for 2020 will include the 152 million nonfarm workers employed in the first quarter, while the numerator will include the much-diminished wage bill that resulted from the shutdown of the economy.

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No more social distancing for media in Rose Garden as White House decides it ‘looks better’ when reporters bunch together

Apparently eager to portray a country that’s definitively back on track not only economically, with a stunner of a nonfarm-payrolls report released early Friday, but also in public health terms, the White House on Friday effectively forced reporters to abandon the Trump administration’s own social-distancing guidance.

Chairs for correspondents, of late placed at a remove from one another in accordance with the widely recognized recommendation to stay 6 feet away from others to lower the risk of coronavirus contagion, were assembled in the Rose Garden in status quo ante fashion.

Why, asked the White House Correspondents Association, were reporters being asked to violate established best practices, with 1,000 Americans perishing daily from COVID-19 and states including Arizona, Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee continuing to see new peaks in cases? A succinct answer from the White House:

‘It looks better.’

— Judd Deere, deputy press secretary

The correspondents association’s head, Jonathan Karl of ABC News, put out the following statement — which, it’s worth noting, took a veiled poke at the White House for labeling the event a news conference when reporters were not given the opportunity to ask questions:

Today the White House press office positioned seating for the President’s Rose Garden “news conference” in a way that violated the federal government’s guidelines on social distancing and needlessly put reporters health at risk.

The chairs were initially positioned in a way that was consistent with social distancing guidelines but were moved closer together by White House staff shortly before the event started.

When we asked for an explanation, the White House press office told us the decision to move the chairs close together was made because “It looks better.”

The health of the press corps should not be put in jeopardy because the White House wants reporters to be a prop for a “news conference” where the president refused to answer any questions.

President Trump, at the podium, took note of the nearly shoulder-to-shoulder seating arrangement Friday as it were an organic occurrence, or perhaps based on epidemiological factors, saying: “I noticed you’re starting to get much closer together. Looks much better, I must say.”

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