By Friday, more of Texas will be back in business – although business won’t look the same under COVID-19 guidelines.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced the second phase of business reopenings in Texas on Monday which included bumping up capacity for dine-in services at restaurants to 50% from 25%.
Starting Friday, entertainment venues like bowling alleys and bars will be allowed to open for the first time at 25% capacity. For Teresa Sparks, owner of Chasers Lounge in East Dallas, that limits the number of customers to 19.
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“To open and all you get is 19 people, that’s not going to sustain my employee’s wages, let alone the bills or any other expenses,” said Sparks.
Sparks and four other employees haven’t been able to work at Chasers Lounge since the shelter-in-place orders during the COVID-19 pandemic required bars to temporarily close.
Without the option of offering take out or to-go alcohol sales, which aren’t allowed for nightclubs, Sparks said she’s relied on donations from generous regulars and discounts from her landlord to stay afloat.
“I’m hanging on by my teeth. I’m keeping my overhead at a minimum,” said Sparks.
She’s not sure she can afford that overhead if she reopens at 25% capacity.
“I think I’m going to wait and see how it turns out for a lot of the clubs that are opening because it’s desperate. People are just opening because they think that being open is better than nothing,” said Sparks. “Truly, if you look at the numbers, is it?”
“We’ve been very clear that very few businesses, if any, can operate a profitable business at 25% occupancy or even 50% occupancy," said Kelsey Erickson Streufert, Vice President of Government Relations and Advocacy for the Texas Restaurant Association.
“Having to purchase PPE, buy additional hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, have more staff per customer, there’s a lot more expenses that go into operating in this post-COVID world,” Erickson Streufert added.
The TRA estimates up to 30% of restaurants face closing for good during the pandemic and the group plans to lobby for tax breaks and expanding the alcohol to-go sales waiver.
“Our last estimate showed sales are down by close to 70% for restaurants with additional costs due to PPE, staffing, sanitation. So, this is a long road to recovery,” said Erickson Streufert.
The prognosis for bars that have been closed for two months may be worse.
“All we can do is try not to make our choices off desperation,” said Sparks. “Go straight off what’s best for the longevity of the club and employees here.”
The state laid out guidelines for bars that include only serving customers who are seated at tables, seating no more than six people in one party and making sure the parties are spaced at least six feet apart. The state recommends physically blocking off the bar and removing bar stools or restricting their use so no one can sit at the bar. You can read the checklist here.
*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.