COVID-19

Texas bar owners sue state after being forced to close again

Andy Uhler Jun 30, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A bartender serves a drink to a customer at a bar in Austin, Texas, in May. Texas Gov. Abbott has singled out bars as the reason for a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state. Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Texas bar owners sue state after being forced to close again

Andy Uhler Jun 30, 2020
A bartender serves a drink to a customer at a bar in Austin, Texas, in May. Texas Gov. Abbott has singled out bars as the reason for a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state. Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images
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As Texas keeps setting records for the number of positive coronavirus tests — 20 days in a row now — Gov. Greg Abbott has hit the “pause” button on the reopening of the economy. 

And he singled out one industry for the spike in cases: bars.

“If I could go back and redo anything,” Abbot said Friday, “it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars, now seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting.” 

Abbott gave bar owners just three hours to shut everything down. That didn’t sit well with some bar owners. On Monday, more than 30 filed a lawsuit challenging Abbott’s emergency order, saying they’re being unfairly singled out. 

One of the bar owners suing the state is Heather Vaughan. She owns the Crossroad Saloon in Big Spring where she employs about 15 people.

 “We’ve got people that are single moms that take care of everything and the first shut down was just absolutely horrible for them,” she said.

 Today her business is closed — officially, anyway.

“We’re trying to follow the rules as much as we can, you know? We just want to make a living and we are shut down,” she said.

Mostly shut down, but Vaughan is still trying to make a little money. Today, she’s opening the doors and “giving away” hamburgers. If patrons want to leave some cash, that’s their call.

“Donation-only because we can’t sell it,” she said.  

She’s desperate because the first closure in March nearly did her business in.

In Abilene, Coy Chew owns the Whiskey Girl Bar, which stayed open past the Governor’s declaration on Friday. That bought Chew a 30-day suspension of his liquor license on Saturday and led him to join the lawsuit.

“You know, it’s not that we’re trying to make light of there being a virus out there. I just think that you either shut everybody down together or nothing at all,” he said.

In Austin, Bob Woody owns a bunch of bars on Sixth Street. He followed the new state orders to close but says he’s putting together his own coalition of bar owners to file a separate lawsuit.

“Given the opportunity to get in front of a magistrate and say, ‘Just prove to us that we caused it and we’re willing to shut down.’ That’s all I want,” he said. 

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission declined to comment on the lawsuit. The Governor’s office didn’t respond to an interview request.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the latest on the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

As of now, those $600-a-week payments will stop at the end of July. For many, unemployment payments have been a lifeline, but one that is about to end, if nothing changes. The debate over whether or not to extend these benefits continues among lawmakers.

With a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, are restaurants and bars shutting back down?

The latest jobs report shows that 4.8 million Americans went back to work in June. More than 30% of those job gains were from bars and restaurants. But those industries are in trouble again. For example, because of the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, increased restrictions on restaurant capacities and closed bars. It’s created a logistical nightmare.

Which businesses got Paycheck Protection Program loans?

The numbers are in — well, at least in part. The federal government has released the names of companies that received loans of $150,000 or more through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Some of the companies people are surprised got loans include Kanye West’s fashion line, Yeezy, TGI Fridays and P.F. Chang’s. The companies you might not recognize, particularly some smaller businesses, were able to hire back staff or partially reopen thanks to the loans.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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