Some businesses defy Texas rules on virus-related closings

Star Tribune

DALLAS — A handful of Texas businesses reopened Friday in defiance of state guidance in the fight against the coronavirus, which allows retailers to offer "to go" service but leaves other restrictions in place.

In Dallas, hair salon owner Shelley Luther was issued a citation at midday but she refused to close her business. She had two stylists and a nail technician on duty, a fraction of her normal staff.

A Houston-area restaurant opened to customers who wanted to eat inside, demarcating available tables by the color of their tablecloths in an effort to ensure social distancing. A table with a white cloth was open for seating. A table with a black cloth was closed.

"The right to open up in a safe manner, that should be our right," said Matt Brice, owner of Federal American Grill in the upscale enclave of Hedwig Village. "We shouldn't be told we have to shut our business down."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month announced a series of orders intended to restart the state economy, but salons and dine-in restaurant service are not yet allowed. More than 1.3 million people have filed for unemployment in Texas since mid-March and joblessness has skyrocketed nationwide due to coronavirus-related business shutdowns.

Texas has reported 593 deaths and 22,806 overall cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. The number of infections is likely much higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

Abbott has reopened state parks and allowed medical providers to resume performing elective surgeries, including abortions. On Friday, businesses were allowed to start selling goods to go. Some of Texas' largest malls designed plans for shoppers to drive up and collect good ordered in advance.

Texas has not gone as far as some other Republican-led states. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp allowed businesses including gyms, hair salons, and tattoo parlors to reopen Friday over the objections of some Democratic mayors.

Luther, the owner of Salon A La Mode in Dallas, said she didn't know how much the citation she was issued would cost, but that she wouldn't pay it.

"We're all wearing protective gear. We're all sanitizing. Everything is completely sanitary in there," she said, adding that she was also not letting anyone in without a mask.

She said her salon has been open for almost three years. She said she had invested about $35,000.

"If I lose it, I have no savings," she said.

At Federal American Grill, Brice was not accepting walk-in diners and was limiting the restaurant to 30% capacity to prevent crowds inside.

Early Friday, no one was sitting at the tables inside. But Brice said all available reservations later in the day were booked up.

Brice said he had applied for a loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program and not yet been approved. The program funded by Congress has drawn attention for loans it has given to publicly traded companies despite a stated goal of helping small businesses.

Brice said he thought the government was unfairly deciding what businesses could open and close. The weeks his establishment has been closed has cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars and forced his employees to stay home without a paycheck, he said.

"It's time to open," Brice said. "The small businesses of this world, not just this community but this world, are hurting. They're hurting badly and not being able to open has been a big struggle for us."

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