HOUSTON / MIAMI (Reuters) – Bar and restaurant owners in Texas and Florida were furious on Friday after state officials abruptly opened new restrictions on their businesses due to a surge in new COVID-19 cases.
FILE PHOTO: Agents of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission verify that the bars maintain social distancing protocols to help curb the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Austin, Texas, USA, 22 May 2020. REUTERS / Nuri Vallbona
The owners warned that sudden reversals, just weeks after the accelerated reopens, will bankrupt some.
“You can’t turn a bar into an UberEats,” said Jeff Kaplan, co-owner of the Axelrad Beer Garden in Houston. He said companies couldn’t stay afloat by relying on new rules that provide take-away sales but not on-premises alcohol consumption.
Houston officials advised residents to stay home, and Texas ordered doctors to end elective surgeries as new coronavirus cases set records on three consecutive days. Florida reported nearly 9,000 new infections on Friday, also a record.
Houston restaurant owner Peter Mitchell said his income has remained a third of normal and declined further as virus cases soared in the region.
“It will be a close decision if we stay open,” he said.
“I wish we had tighter restrictions for another month when we did the 25% occupancy (phase),” Mitchell said. She said her business has never exceeded 25% occupancy, but noted that no regulator has verified it.
Florida homeowners also complained that counties and cities in the state had inconsistent operating rules.
“The level of ambiguity we’ve come across every step of the way has been really challenging,” said Will Thompson, owner of the Miami Jaguar Sun. “It is about the lack of clarity of officials.”
Gabriel Orta, whose company runs food and beverage operations at hotels in Miami, said the rules are inconsistent. “We don’t have the leadership we need when we go into a catastrophe,” he added.
Anthony Wegmann, who ran four bars and restaurants in Texas, closed two after a landlord did not grant a rent deferment. “There is no way that a company can pay 100% of its invoices on 25% of its income,” he said.
Some are willing to accept the loss of business for the public good. “It was a little unexpected,” said Sara Murray, manager of the Cheers Pub in Friendswood, Texas. “In the end, we all have to do what we have to do to keep everyone safe.
Reports by Zachary Ferguson in Miami and Erwin Seba in Houston; written by Gary McWilliams; Edited by David Gregorio