deep ellum

Bar Owners Seek Solutions to Survive COVID-19 Shutdown

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Frustrated North Texas bar owners say they are getting creative in order to survive an ongoing shutdown amid COVID-19.

Business establishments with over 51% of revenue from alcohol sales were ordered closed on June 26 after local and state health officials grew concerned about a spike in cases.

A Deep Ellum bar owner created an open letter to the state's leader.

“Governor Abbott. My name is Jeff Brightwell and I own a restaurant and beer garden in Deep Ellum, Texas,” the video begins.

The owner of Dot’s Hop House said he has experienced stages of grief since he closed his business twice, with no end in sight.

“When I got to the ‘acceptance’ part of it [grief],” he said. “It’s like, I’m not really going to accept it. Something has to be done.”

The short video shot by Ashton Campbell of Three Seven Media goes on to ask the governor for help.

“I propose the state refund the 6.7% in mixed beverage tax that bars pay, which is on top of their 8.25% sales tax,” Brightwell said. “The rebate would be for mixed beverage taxes collected 12 months prior to the March shutdown.”

"The state could easily pay for this program from the $10 billion Texas Rainy Day Fund," Brightwell added.

It could provide relief for thousands of owners, shouldering the burden, he said, over rising COVID-19 cases.

“If it is us, the bar industry, that has to be closed to stop this, OK. But you’ve got to help us,” Brightwell said. “Arbitrarily closing us and then allow us to drown because they won’t throw us a lifeline, it’s bad business on their part and it’s unjust as a government.”

The owner of The Rail Club Live in Fort Worth is taking a different approach.

“We don’t have a choice but to open and stay open,” owner Chris Polone said.

Come Aug. 29, Polone said his doors will open for good, defying the state mandate and a suspended liquor license from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission after he opened over the Fourth of July weekend.

Polone said he and about 1,000 other owners are dubbing their new pushback "Come and Take It."

“They’re basically taking our businesses by starving them out so if they want them, they’re going to have to come and take it,” he said.

How can he open? Polone said believed he found a way to sell alcohol and allow patrons inside, something that he said is currently not allowed at his establishment.

“We’re not going to be selling concert tickets. We’re going to be selling percentages of our business. You’ll get a bill of sale when you walk in the door,” he said. “Then we’re going to do a ‘buy-back’ and we’ll have a notary on-site and everything.”

Brightwell’s business sells plenty of food, but not enough to surpass alcohol sales.

Brightwell is critical of the TABC for allowing qualified mixed beverage businesses to apply for a food and beverage license and operate temporarily.

He said it’s like saying “you have to be closed, but if you give us $3,000 you can be open until we close you again.”

Polone said many bars are shelling a lot of money to install kitchens and apply for proper permits hoping to reopen, but it’s no guarantee it’ll be worth the cost.

“It is insane to me to think that the ration of Bud Lights to burgers you sell has anything to do with the cause and spread of COVID-19,” Polone said.

NBC 5 reached out to Abbott’s office for comment on the open letter and whether there are plans to allow these businesses to reopen but have not yet heard back.

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