AUSTIN (KXAN) — Bar owners and their supporters frustrated with Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order limiting bars to take-out and delivery service only during the COVID-19 pandemic protested Friday.
Organizers of a Facebook group called “Texas Bars Fight Back!” were in front of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s headquarters on Mesa Drive in Austin, and they’re angry and want to be heard, they said.
James Kopeck, co-owner of Chuters Saloon, made the trip from Pasadena, Texas.
“There’s been numerous bars every day, I read in the papers, numerous bars across in Houston, are shutting down, and across the state are shutting down. They just can’t afford this. All these people are losing their livelihoods,” Kopeck said.
Bar owners at the protest said it’s frustrating that restaurants have been allowed to stay open, while 51% licensed bars have been forced to close.
Abbott addressed bar owners during a news conference in Lubbock Thursday, saying while he empathizes with those in the bar industry, it’s not time yet to open bars up again.
He said three things need to happen before they do.
“We do need to see the positivity rate, go back below 10% for a sustained period of time. We do need to see more hospital rooms become available. And then we need to see that bar establishments, have a strategy that can be enforced with discipline to maintain safe distancing practices, so that they do not become a setting where COVID-19 can be spread,” Abbott said Thursday.
Bar owner Tee Allen said she heard his remarks, but was not satisfied.
“He said he sympathized with us that we were the hardest hit. But his actions aren’t that of sympathy,” Allen said Friday at the protest.
Allen said she has reached out to the Governor’s office to request a meeting.
“We’ve asked Governor Abbott to meet with us and let us tell him how we can safely operate and protect our customers and our staff and he won’t do it. We want a solution. We want to bill pass give us a relief package since we’re the hardest hit,” Allen said.
TABC says it has been doing everything they can to help business reopen, but at the same time upholding Abbott’s executive order. TABC’s full statement is below:
TABC understands and empathizes with all of the industry members whose businesses have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. From the start, we’ve worked with multiple industry trade groups and individual business owners to find ways to assist while still following the Governor’s orders and protecting Texans’ health.
One way that many businesses have already taken advantage of is the ability to reclassify themselves as restaurants, allowing bars with food production ability to operate under the same guidelines that thousands of restaurants use. We’ve also looked for ways to help save businesses money on licensing and permit fees, and clarified guidance for bars and restaurants looking to sell alcohol and food to go.
As we move forward, we’ll continue to work with business owners, trade groups, and elected officials to identify additional ways to assisting the alcoholic beverage industry. We hope that all stakeholders will feel empowered to share their comments, concerns and questions as we work together to keep Texas safe.”TABC Public Information Officer Chris Porter
TABC offices are closed to the public “to protect health and safety,” but the agency said in a tweet its staff is working remotely.
The protest was scheduled to last three hours.