Some North Texas businesses and theaters unsure if they'll reopen May 1; owners cite safety and finances

North Texas restaurants are among many businesses set to open at a limited capacity on May 1, but some business owners said the new guidelines invite more questions than answers.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that restaurants, retailers, malls and movie theaters across the state will be able to resume operating on Friday, but at 25% capacity. The governor said if the spread is low statewide in two weeks, he will increase capacity at all businesses.

Brooks Anderson co-owns several popular Dallas restaurants including Rapscallion Neighborhood Bistro on Lower Greenville Avenue. He’s anxious to reopen.

“It’s just fantastic news for us Texans that the disease has not spread like it has in some places,” he said.

But Anderson is not sure the math works for restaurant operators.

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“A lot of people not in the business think, well just open up and take part of the revenue and you’ll figure it out. Well, I think we might actually lose money faster at 25% revenue than just staying closed in the meantime,” he said.

Anderson said opening at 25% capacity doesn’t make sense for his restaurants with utilities already shut off to reduce overhead.

“I don’t know how dropping our revenue by 75% works in any circumstance. Will my rent be cut by 75%? Will my utilities, water, electric insurance? Are my employees supposed to work for 75% less?” he said.

Anderson, who’s also an attorney, worries about keeping guests and workers safe -- especially in tiny kitchens. He also is concerned about the potential liability of someone getting sick.

“How do you not spread the coronavirus? Wear a mask. Can you wear a mask and eat? How do you drink and wear a mask? So nobody is wearing a mask in a small room with air conditioning so there’s just a whole host of issues there,” he said.

It means Anderson is holding back, for now, no matter how strong the temptation to jump back in.

“We are just going to sit and wait,” he said. “We wanna see how this works.”

Randy DeWitt is the chairman of Front Burner Restaurants. They own seven DFW restaurants, like Whiskey Cake and Sixty Vines. Only 20% of their 700 employees have been able to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, DeWitt’s restaurants will be open by doing reservations only.

“I am wearing one of the tags you'll see in our restaurants… encouraging everyone to stay six feet away,” DeWitt said. “Everyone will have masks.” ​

But not every business is on board with the loosened restrictions.

Jon Alexis owns TJ's Seafood and Malibu Poke. He said they will continue to do curbside orders, but he thinks it’s too soon to open dining rooms, even in a limited capacity.

“If there is an outbreak in a restaurant, it’s not going to be in mine,” Alexis said. “We are going to let some other people navigate those tricky waters. I am not an epidemiologist. I don't know.” ​

Movie theaters can also open with limited capacity but many will not.

Plano-based Cinemark said it will not reopen until mid-summer, citing health concerns as well as the release date of new films being pushed back.

"We will not be opening our Texas theaters this weekend. Opening safely is a very complex project that involves countless new procedures and equipment, all of which require extensive training. This is something we cannot and will not do casually or quickly," Alamo Drafthouse said in a statement.

Studio Movie Grill is based in Dallas. Founder Brian Schultz said the company will make a decision on when to reopen after getting feedback from stakeholders and customers.

“July 17th is when the big tent pole will really get going. But in the meantime, there’s great content,” Schultz said. “We will be curating repertory theater, and we will offer it at a discount price. We are thinking $3 to allow families to get out of the house.”

Retail is taking another step forward toward reopening Friday. Stores are only allowed a quarter of their full occupancy. According to some business owners, it’s a step up from retail to-go.

Louise Proulx, with Renew Beauty, had to lay off her whole staff at her med spa in North Park Center. A spokesperson for North Park said the mall is ‘formulating a plan’ to reopen.

“It’s exciting to be back in business. It’s exciting to see Texas recovering so well from this,” said Proulx. “But we’re also cautiously optimistic and making sure that we’re following all the requirements for social distancing.”

In the meantime, Proulx has been selling skincare products online, offering home delivery for clients or curbside pickup. Come Friday, she said she’ll require the staff she’s able to hire back to wear masks and gloves. They will only be able to sell products since spas and salons are not yet open for services.

“I think that you’re going to see a lot of people here,” Proulx said. “And I think initially it may seem a little unusual to not be able to give the hugs and be able to see people smiling the way that I normally do, but I think people will be happy to have a new normal in their life that they can come back shopping and do it in a safe way.”

Galleria Dallas released a statement on Monday that it is “still contemplating the best route forward to reopen while meeting the governor’s requirements safely and effectively.”

Molly Mathias at Magic Hour in Bishop Arts furloughed her six employees.

‘I don’t feel safe, but I also can’t make the decision not to open at this point,” she said. “Retail already is a dying industry, then to have this happen.”

Mathias’ plan is to allow access to only the front half of her store and limit the number of customers in the store at a time to five. She said it’s less than ideal, but it’s something.

“It’s hard to operate a small business without knowing what’s going to happen the next day,” Mathias said. “So at least this kind of gives us a little bit of hope.”

With speculation about a possible second wave of this virus in the fall, store owners are wanting to maintain their online presence, just in case.

The first phase will be monitored to see if the spread of the virus will continue to decrease. Gov. Abbott said the decision was made with the health of Texans in mind.


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