DALLAS - Bars across Texas were forced to shut down with just a few hours’ notice as Governor Greg Abbott's newest executive orders came down Friday morning.
Bars had to close at noon Friday, but they can still stay open for delivery or takeout.
The news came suddenly for many bar owners who were just getting ready to open for the day. They are now forced to shut down a second time, with no end date in sight.
The Fireplace Lounge in Dallas was forced to shut down in March due to coronavirus restrictions and is now dealing with another blow from the latest order.
“Major, we’re a family-owned business, small business. We have a small occupancy, so even the 50 percent, the 25 percent, that was hard enough as it is, but to shut down. Now we’re affecting a lot of people’s income,” the owner, Becky Hickman, said.
Hickman’s family has owned the bar for more than 30 years, and she’s gotten to know their regulars as family. But they don’t know the next time they’ll be able to see everyone.
A store stands closed as the coronavirus keeps financial markets and businesses mostly closed on April 21, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
“Obviously, I’m not happy about it. I feel for our customers, for our employees, but on the other hand, we do need to keep our community safe. So if everybody would just wear a mask, then we could still go out and have fun,” she said.
At Alexandre’s in Oak Lawn, the doors have been closed since March.
“I don’t think anyone is surprised by this, I think everyone has seen the increase in numbers,” the owner, Lee Daugherty, said.
Employees and the owner have made the decision to stay closed as a group, meeting on Zoom weekly to discuss the current COVID-19 data in Dallas.
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“It’s going back to what medical professionals are saying, what scientists are saying, what actual epidemiologists are saying, sometimes not what politicians are saying,” Daugherty added.
Joseph Shirghio manages the popular cocktail lounge, Bowen House. He says he understands the governor’s decision, but it’s still tough.
“We have a staff to look for, kitchen and front of the house,” Shirghio said. “So how do we continue to bring in money to make sure that those guys are okay.”
Across the metroplex, the iconic Billy Bob’s Texas in the Fort Worth Stockyards had just reopened last week.
“With July Fourth next weekend, it makes sense. The governor is trying to save lives,” said Billy Bob’s Texas general manager Marty Travis. “We just opened our doors daytime last week. We followed the rules. We tried to be the knight in shining armor.”
Travis says they had taken numerous steps to keep employees and patrons safe, but he knows across the state not every business or individual was being safe.
“A lot of places just made bad, bad decisions, and it’s going to put us all backwards for a month or two or who knows how long till the governor makes us whole again,” Travis said.
The Texas Bar and Nightlife Association accused Gov. Abbott of not enforcing distancing rules equally on all businesses, saying: “Once again, our businesses are targeted for complete closure allowing zero income for hundreds of thousands of Texans employed by our industry.”
The governor’s office said it is following guidance from the medical community. Health officials have expressed concern about the virus spreading in bars in recent days.
In an interview with KWTX-TV, the governor explained the move.
“We have found that a lot of the spread from COVID-19 is coming from bars, and that is the primary thing that is shutting down here,” Abbott said.
Bars are not alone in being impacted.
The order requires restaurants to dial back capacity from 75 to 50 percent.
At Maguire's Restaurant, owner Mark Maguire says rolling back won't make that much difference.
“Because it is darn near impossible for me to get more than 50 percent in this restaurant and still maintain all the social distancing guidelines,” he said.
But for those who are affected more, they hope the state can turn the situation around and for good.
“Just having everyone back together was amazing,” Shirghio said. “And knowing that’s going to be gone for, we’re not sure how long, is disheartening.”
For North Texas bar owners, they’ll keep tracking the local data, hoping to see a declining trend soon.
“We’re not getting lost in the politics of this because this is serious, people’s health, someone’s health isn’t politics. Workers’ health isn’t politics,” Daugherty said.
The Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission previously said they’d be out doing enforcement this weekend to check bars and restaurants for compliance. Last weekend, they suspended licenses for 17 establishments that weren’t in compliance.