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Friday, 11 December 2020

The real It's A Wonderful Life! Georgia bar owner who faced closing his 64-year-old tavern loved by former presidents is SAVED as 2,800 donors raise $178K - and one donation is sent in an envelope addressed to George Bailey

 A Georgia bar that was on the verge of closing forever after being forced to stay shut for much for the year due to the coronavirus, has been saved after locals rallied round and managed to raise enough money to keep it open.

In a modern-day It's A Wonderful Life-like story, the bar has been saved with thousands of people in the community helping to keep the business afloat. 

One kind donation was even sent in an envelope addressed to the movie's character George Bailey. 

Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta first opened in 1956 but it was the year of the pandemic that pushed it to the brink. 

The owner of Atlanta bar Manuel's Tavern, Brian Maloof was contemplating shutting the bar down having run out of cash due to coronavirus lockdowns

The owner of Atlanta bar Manuel's Tavern, Brian Maloof was contemplating shutting the bar down having run out of cash due to coronavirus lockdowns

The bar which has been around since 1956 is well known throughout the city

The bar which has been around since 1956 is well known throughout the city

The owner, 53-year-old Brian Maloof, was preparing to pull the pints at his bar for a final time when a long-time patron, Angelo Fuster, decided to set up a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $75,000.

The sum would have been enough money to keep the bar going for a little while longer, at least through the start of 2021.

However, the bill for the bar's liquor license and insurance were all coming due and with hardly any cash in the bank the bar was losing an average of $25,000 a month.

But incredibly, thanks to the generosity of the community comprising of some 2,900 donors, the online campaign has raised $178,000 in a week. It means the venue will be able to survive all of 2021, and hopefully well beyond that. 

A regular patron, Angelo Fuster, suggested to Maloof that he should set up a GoFundMe account to help save the business

A regular patron, Angelo Fuster, suggested to Maloof that he should set up a GoFundMe account to help save the business

One person left a cash donation placed inside an envelope which was addressed to George Bailey - the main character in the classic 1946 Christmas film It's a Wonderful Life

One person left a cash donation placed inside an envelope which was addressed to George Bailey - the main character in the classic 1946 Christmas film It's a Wonderful Life

It wasn't just online that people were contributing cash, some were stopping by in person to hand over cash and checks together with letters of support and stories of the connections they felt to the bar. 

One was a cash donation placed inside an envelope was addressed to George Bailey - the main character in the classic 1946 Christmas film It's a Wonderful Life. 

In the film, an angel is sent from heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like had he never existed. 

In this case, Angelo Fuster might be considered to be the angel with Maloof a real-life George Bailey. 

Fuster had envisioned an outpouring of support reminiscent of the Christmas film. 

Patron Angelo Fuster said he was convinced that Maloof would see how was he was loved with parallels to the film It's A Wonderful Life. James Stewart is seen playing part of George Bailey

Patron Angelo Fuster said he was convinced that Maloof would see how was he was loved with parallels to the film It's A Wonderful Life. James Stewart is seen playing part of George Bailey

Jimmy Stewart in the holiday classic 'It's a Wonderful Life'
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'It's overwhelming,' Maloof said to Saporta Report. 'I don't have the vocabulary to properly express the gratitude that I feel.' 

'It has been the most humbling and overwhelming experience in my life. It will not be forgotten, abused or taken for granted,' he wrote in an emotional letter on Facebook. 

'I have always known that Manuel's is more than a bar, it is a place of comfort, peace and joy, a place of humanity in a world of chaos. Manuel's is more than my family, it is the collective conscience of the people who frequent it. My job has been to keep the doors open and guide it into the future. I was doing everything I knew how, and I was failing. All of you stepped up and saved it.' 

Maloof signed the letter 'Brian Maloof aka George Bailey' with the postcript, 'It really is a wonderful life.' 

Maloof says he has been overwhelmed by the tremendous response with $75,000 raised in the first few hours as thousands in the community rallied to support the businessman

Maloof says he has been overwhelmed by the tremendous response with $75,000 raised in the first few hours as thousands in the community rallied to support the businessman

But what is so special about Manuel's Tavern?  

It's website describes it as a place where 'at any given time, a broad cross-section of American culture rubbing elbows at the bar, discussing the news item of the day, arguing the merits of a sports team, or espousing the idea of the century,' can be found.

'Here a doctor, a plumber, a lawyer, an electrician, a student, a journalist, a salesman, a politician, or a construction worker can feel comfortable–accepted for who they are, known by their name or what they drink. They are 'regulars,' the life-blood of the Tavern. Manuel's Tavern has an essence like no other place in Atlanta.' 

 But it's not just regular people who frequent the bar - several presidents have made a point to visit the local landmark.

Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Georgia native Jimmy Carter have all been photographed either with Maloof or with excited patrons. 

Manuel's Tavern describes itself as a place where 'at any given time, a broad cross-section of American culture rubbing elbows at the bar, discussing the news item of the day,'. President Obama is pictured here shaking hands with Brian Maloof during a visit in 2015

Manuel's Tavern describes itself as a place where 'at any given time, a broad cross-section of American culture rubbing elbows at the bar, discussing the news item of the day,'. President Obama is pictured here shaking hands with Brian Maloof during a visit in 2015

Former President Bill Clinton says hello to Megan Bartlett and her 3-month-old daughter Hannah Rice, Decatur, as he works the crowd at historic Manuel's Tavern in August 2016

Former President Bill Clinton says hello to Megan Bartlett and her 3-month-old daughter Hannah Rice, Decatur, as he works the crowd at historic Manuel's Tavern in August 2016

Former President and Georgia native Jimmy Carter is seen in the bar with a customer

Former President and Georgia native Jimmy Carter is seen in the bar with a customer

'If additional stimulus money comes in, I'm confident we will make it to the end of 2021,' Maloof said.

'If additional stimulus money comes in, I'm confident we will make it to the end of 2021,' Maloof said.

The coronavirus pandemic pushed Manuels' to the brink where Maloof was no longer ordering drinks to sell. 

'I had reached a point where I had given up. We were not going to make it to the end of December. That's how bad it was.

'We had had a phenomenal January and February, and then it all went to hell,' said Maloof. 

'I had become very bitter as everything was declining. I had it rock solid in my head that we were closing.'

But the community responded in droves with more than $75,000 raised in 17 hours.  

It means the bar is guaranteed to be open until the spring. 

'If additional stimulus money comes in, I'm confident we will make it to the end of 2021,' Maloof said.

The coronavirus pandemic pushed Manuels' to the brink where Maloof was no long ordering drinks to sell including liquor, beer, wine and sodas. Above is the outdoor dining operation

The coronavirus pandemic pushed Manuels' to the brink where Maloof was no long ordering drinks to sell including liquor, beer, wine and sodas. Above is the outdoor dining operation

Brian Maloof is pictured with his daughter, Megan, smiling now that the bar has been saved

Brian Maloof is pictured with his daughter, Megan, smiling now that the bar has been saved

'It is life-changing,' Maloof told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. 'I went in a matter of a week from figuring out what I am going to do to planning the future of Manuel's. It's a complete reversal of thought.' 

Maloof also has some words of advice to other restauranteurs and bar owners who might be suffering at this time. 

'I would tell them not to give up so easily,' Maloof said, remembering how he almost had given up. 'Be honest with your staff. Reach out to your customers.' 

Maloof looks at the entire fundraising drive with a degree of sentimentality. 

'Technically, I may own Manuel's, but it's not really mine. It belongs to everybody who comes here. They are what makes Manuel's, Manuel's. It's the collective consciousness of everyone who comes here.

'I want to thank [the donors] from the bottom of my heart. It's humbling. I'm going to do everything I can to keep their bar open.'

Brian Maloof's long thank you letter to everyone who responded to the GoFunMe campaign

Brian Maloof's long thank you letter to everyone who responded to the GoFunMe campaign

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