By Mark Wilson & Ashley Inge
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott updated his COVID-19 policy Monday to start Phase I of re-opening some businesses in the state starting Friday, May 1.
Retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls are permitted to reopen now, but the services in many counties must limit their capacity to 25% of their listed occupancy.
Counties like Somervell, however, with five or fewer active cases, are allowed to open businesses at 50% capacity, also starting today.
Public swimming pools; bars; gyms; cosmetology salons; massage establishments; interactive amusement venues, such as bowling alleys and video arcades; and tattoo and piercing studios remain closed through the end of Phase I.
If Phase 1 proves successful in terms of maintaining public safety, Abbott said he would follow up with Phase 2 to allow additional loosening of business restrictions.
The Reporter spoke with several local businesses to get their take on Abbott’s recent announcement. Some of them are not happy — being in the category forced to remain closed until further notice.
LARUE SALON & SPA
“I feel like it’s abuse of power at the highest level in our state,” said Devin Hawbaker, co-owner of LaRue Salon Spa in Glen Rose. “It’s discriminatory. I think what he’s doing is uncivil by preventing me and my family and my employees from our right to work, our ability to earn wages and our ability to support our families when he is determining which businesses are essential and which are not. I think he’s stepping over the line right there.”
Hawbaker said hair stylists have to go through several hours of training in sanitation protocols, unlike movie theaters that are allowed to open per Abbott’s ruling.
“TDLR (Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation) requires 1,500 hours of schooling and after that, every two years you’re required at least a minimum of four hours of continued education on sanitation,” he said. “We are high contact, but we take all the precautions. All of our instruments are sterilized, all of our chairs are separated, we follow the rules to a tee.
“When you come into our salon, you’re getting a fresh shave, a chair that’s been wiped down and sanitized and our stylists are using clean tools – tools that have been sterilized. The same can be said for barber shops, too. It’s really criminal how we got clumped into this as a place of higher risk when we’ve taken all of these sanitation precautions for years before the coronavirus ever showed up.”
Shelley Luther, owner of Salon A La Mode in Dallas, made news in the Metroplex when she opened her salon late last week despite state orders. She was issued a cease and desist along with a restraining order and is being sued for violating city/county shelter-in-place orders.
Hawbaker said Luther is in “talks right now with Gov. Abbott about possibly opening us up early.”
“It’s sad that you can go to Home Depot and not find anywhere to park because it’s so busy, but the governor is discriminating about who can open and who can’t,” he said. “People should have the right. We have the freedom to be able to open, to be able to provide for our families. People can choose where they go and when they go. I think it’s a terrible thing the way he’s treating this whole deal.”
STUDIO 208 SALON
Kim Reynolds, co-owner of Studio 208 Salon in Glen Rose, voiced her beliefs on a Facebook post regarding 300 people who were reportedly at city-owned Big Rocks Park on Sunday.
“Isn’t it ironic that 200-300 people can crowd Big Rocks, including people from other counties that are actually on ‘shelter in place’ and nothing is done about it? Yet, hair salons are not supposed to be open, even one-on-one, with only 2 people there? Or if all 3 stylists in my salon had 1 client, that would be 6 total!!
“The hypocrisy is driving me insane!! Everyone can still hit up Big Rocks, Walmart and Costco with hundreds of other people that ARE NOT BEING SCREENED, yet many of them, along with our government, are the ones controlling and judging us for wanting to support our own families with screening and the highest safety measures in place rather than going into debt or accepting money that I think should be for those that truly need it!”
LA VITA ITALIAN RESTAURANT
Jose and La Vita Torres, who own and operate La Vita Italian Restaurant in downtown Glen Rose, have been able to remain open with curbside pickup, but with different hours — 4 to 9 p.m.
They had to temporarily cut back their staff from 15 to four, but the curbside business has kept them hopping.
“We’ve been staying busy. We thought we were going to be slow,” La Vita said.
In the general sense, they are eager to get back to normal. But in human terms, that possibility — even at just 50% occupancy — has left them unsure what to do, and when.
“We’re ready to be back to normal. Hopefully, everything will be soon. We’re just ready. (But) the first thing, the workers … most are not ready. We don’t know if we’re going to open up (the dining room) on Friday.”
She explained that some of their employees have expressed concern about the virus, despite the recommended social distancing and other precautions the restaurant is taking to ensure sanitization.
With its front and back rooms combined, the restaurant normally can seat between 70 and 79 customers, she said. But, even with occupancy limited to 50%, she said they may hold off and just stick with curbside business for a while longer.
“We may just wait and see how everything flows back up,” she said.
La Vita said that they moved here from Fort Worth six years ago to open the restaurant. The other current issue she faces is having four children of her own, the youngest being only 9 months.
“I have to bring my kids with me,” she said, because they are doing online studies from home the rest of the school year.
SUGARBISCUITS & COMPANY
Owner/operator Lindsey Brewer of Sugarbicuits & Company, which is on the other side of the downtown square in Glen Rose, has also been able to remain open with curbside business. They are delivering meals as well.
When contacted by the newspaper Wednesday evening, Brewer said that they do plan on opening their dining room to 50% occupancy, according to Abbott’s latest guidelines.
“This Friday, May 1, Sugarbiscuits and Company will reopen its doors to regular hours from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Following OSHA guidelines as safety is a priority for our guests and staff. As we reopen, we will allow 50% capacity along with curbside/delivery!”
Brewer noted that her family had gone through a scary situation previously, when her daughter, a former Glen Rose High School track and field athlete, successfully made it through cancer treatment.
“Having gone through a serious health crisis before, we absolutely took the threat of COVID-19 seriously,” Lindsey said in a text message. “We closed down for dine-in a week before it was mandatory (and) began offering curbside and delivery. We started online ordering to streamline the process and opened only 2 days a week.”
Brewer added, “The community has shown us tremendous support during this time by ordering every time we were open and purchasing gift cards. We have had the honor of being asked to provide meals by several businesses and individuals who participated in the #OutlastCOVID (Facebook) challenge. We fed the Post Office, the schools, the hospital, and the nursing home employees!”
Brewer said they had to temporarily reduce the restaurant’s staff numbers during the past few weeks.
“I had to cut my staff in half, and have been able to keep four employees working at least 20 hours a week during these six weeks,” she said. “I have had a few immune compromised employees who have decided to not return just yet.
“I’m definitely opening at 50% occupancy and continuing curbside and delivery for Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. I’ll see how that goes and see if my staff will all come back and go from there.”