Reopened for just one week, Billy Bob’s Texas has closed its doors to the public for the second time during the coronavirus pandemic.
In an effort to contain the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, a new executive order issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott forced bars statewide to close at noon Friday. Similar establishments that receive more than 51% of their revenue from alcohol sales are permitted to remain open for delivery and takeout, including alcoholic beverages, according to the order.
Marty Travis, general manager for Billy Bob’s Texas, said this was ‘the worst news’ they could get. They reopened to the public for the first time since mid-March last Thursday.
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“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this point. I’ve done a little bit of both,” Travis told NBC 5 on Friday. “I have 270 people on my staff, thinking about their livelihoods just now. Tipped employees, there’s no tips. The hourly employees, there’s no hours to give them. It doesn’t matter what happened. Rent’s due. Car payment’s due. School notes are due. The amount of Billy Bob’s that is their livelihood, it’s not here for them right now.”
One of those workers is Jon Dorton, who has been with Billy Bob’s for about four years. In his 20 years of working in the bar service industry, Dorton said he never imagined he would be placed in this situation.
“I work three jobs to avoid situations like this,” he said. “When I filed for unemployment, I qualified for the highest amount which is, in a week, about what I make in a day. So, it’s a big, big hit.”
Dorton said for him, the pandemic and its impact on the service industry has also been a mental strain.
“You’re used to being out, taking care of people. Trying to give them a good time. Then for the last few months, you’re just sitting at home watching the day go by…saying, ‘what are we allowed to do now? What can’t we do anymore, you know?” he said. “I’ll never give up on the bar industry. Making people happy and giving them a good time after they’re going through nonsense, that makes my heart happy. I’ll never give up on that but to make the bank account happy, I’m going to have to pick up something on the way.”
Under the order, restaurants must scale back dine-in capacity to 50% starting Monday, June 29. It also states rafting and tubing businesses must close, while outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must be approved by local governments with certain exceptions.
Travis said while Billy Bob’s Texas operates as several different capacities including a restaurant, they must follow the rules as a ‘bar’.
“Last night, we had our first band. We had our house band play last night. They were going to play this weekend and now, we had to turn them away,” he said. “We had been very prepared for our cleaning, our distancing. Everything we were prepared for, we were ready.”
Moving forward, he said they will be ready once again when bars are allowed to welcome patrons inside.
“Our team is strong. Our team wants to come back. Our team wants to be good. We just have to suffer through another couple of weeks or a month of being closed down but when we get back open, we’re going to be able to provide people a good, safe, clean place to come enjoy their country music,” Travis said.
In Dallas's State Thomas neighborhood, the forced closure marked the third for Parliament in about as many months.
“We don’t mind the sacrifice. We would like to all help wherever we can to help get rid of COVID-19 in our world, but let’s do it for real. I don’t know how you can shut down a little bit and expect COVID to go away," said owner Eddie "Lucky" Campbell.
Campell had delayed the initial reopening of the bar out of fear the state's plan was happening too quickly.
He did the same at his restaurant The Standard Pour where he's already operating under the 50% capacity restaurants will be required to roll back to Monday.
Campbell's third concept, The Clover Club, remains closed as he works on a redesign that allows for safer spacing.
He's optimistic all three restaurants will weather this long and unpredictable storm, though he knows it's possible one won't. He's also certain the industry as a whole will take a hard hit.
"The reality is it’s very tricky, and I think there are a lot of people that don’t know what their futures hold at this point," said Campbell.
Today the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance released a statement:
Governor Abbott's Executive Order effective noon today indefinitely reclosing 51% mixed beverage licenses is unjust and irresponsible. As of June 25, there are 2,296 confirmed deaths statewide in Texas attributed to Covid-19 out of a total population of 29,900,000. This represents a 0.00007% death rate. Once again, our businesses are targeted for complete closure allowing zero income for hundreds of thousands of Texans employed by our industry. Meanwhile, no other business sector in Texas has been subject to any enforcement of social distancing and are allowed to continue to operate. The Governor’s decision is without any scientific evidence to suggest that 51% licenses are more responsible than other businesses which cater to the public for the spread of infectious disease.
Gov. Abbott did not say when the new restrictions may be lifted.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.