AUSTIN, Texas — Most Texas retail stores, restaurants and gyms will soon be able to reopen at 75% capacity, but bars will still need to remain shut, Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Sept. 17.
On June 26, bar establishments were ordered to abruptly close due to a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Texas.
"Because bars are nationally recognized as coronavirus spreading location, they are not able to open at this time," the governor said.
However, he added he's working on finding ways to get them open.
The first step is to see COVID-19 numbers continue to be contained and then he will work with bars on "effective strategies that will ensure that when they do open, the possibility to spread coronavirus is contained."
Bar owners have pressured the governor to let them reopen with several protests in Downtown Austin, but for now, they'll have to wait a little longer. Some of them even began reopening as restaurants.
The Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance released a statement Thursday evening calling the latest guidelines unacceptable.
"Gov. Abbott's actions today are unacceptable. At his hand alone, bar owners are having their livelihoods destroyed and are losing everything without being given a chance at reopening in a safe and responsible manner.
"By his own admission, different regions of the state should be treated differently based on their current battle against COVID-19, yet bars are shut down everywhere regardless of the local data.
"It is absolutely ridiculous that a bar that serves 'enough' food is now allowed to open to 75% capacity, but regular neighborhood bars without the means to obtain new government permits or offer food items cannot open their doors at all.
"For months, we've been told that anti-business Abbott needs to see sustained positivity rates below 10% and improvements on hospitalizations for bars to be given a chance at reopening. Texas delivered. But he has not acted on this promise and it is a death sentence for thousands of small businesses.
"We have yet to receive any feedback from the state on the TBNA industry-supported plan for reopening all bars immediately. Our alliance has worked tirelessly to come up with a plan to reopen our businesses and keep our customers safe, which is more stringent than what is required for retail and food service that now are at 75% capacity indoors.
"Despite our best efforts and intentions, we have not received a path forward and there appears to be no end in sight. The unilateral decision today has destroyed the lives of generations of hard-working Texans."
For places like Spider House Cafe and Ballroom in Central Austin, they've been closed since the beginning, which owner Conrad Bejarano says has been tough, but safety comes first.
“It’s been sad and stressful, I mean, I get it – we’re dealing with a worldwide pandemic," Bejarano said. “I get it, people want to get out people are getting stir crazy but everyone again kind of has to understand and have some common sense like on safety.”
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission still allows bars to apply for a restaurant certificate which would allow them to open, but they'd have to operate as a restaurant. Bejarano said the process is too ambiguous.
“What I would like to see is more support from the local government," Bejarano said.
Other restaurants like Kerbey Lane Cafe said they'll be expanding their capacity to 75%.
"Pure elation. We want to be busy, we love when we’re on a wait," said Kerbey Lane Cafe COO Jamie Cohen. “Restaurants have done a very good job of implementing protocols to keeping everybody safe.”
He added that the most difficult part of operating during the COVID-19 pandemic has been all the capacity changes.
“The uncertainty of understanding what our business cycles were going to be like have been difficult," Cohen said. “We had some employees that never came back and we had some employees that couldn’t wait to get back.”
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