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San Antonio bar owners worry many bars won’t survive the shutdown, believe there’s a way to open safely now

The owners of Big Hops and The Friendly Spot talked to Steve Spriester about surviving the shutdown during coronavirus pandemic

SAN ANTONIO – Two San Antonio bar owners estimate that nearly a third of local bars and nightclubs will never reopen, even when the restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.

Jody Newman owns The Friendly Spot in King William. She’s optimistic that her business will survive, but says she knows many other bar owners are not as fortunate.

“We’re seeing places that have operated for decades close,” Newman said. “We’re seeing small businesses going into a record amount of debt trying to stay open.”

Bars in San Antonio were forced to close when San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg issued an emergency declaration on March 18. Governor Abbott issued a similar statewide declaration the next day.

It’s now been 55 days with no revenue for more than 5,500 bars, taverns and nightclubs in Texas.

“We sell food and beverage -- that creates our revenue, so we have no revenue. So it’s very hard for a business to stay afloat," Newman said. "Certainly nobody is discounting our bills, so they’re still there 100%, but our revenue is gone.”

Big Hops owner Rob Martindale said 75,000 Texans lost their jobs when bars closed. He said it’s been estimated that those businesses have lost more than 620 million dollars in revenue, which equates to about 42 million dollars in lost tax revenue to the state. He said his 30% estimate on bar closures could be worse if bars cannot reopen for another month or two.

Unlike restaurants, that were allowed to stay open for to-go service and have since been allowed to reopen at 25% capacity, bar owners were given no options but to close entirely, even though many could have offered to-go food as well, Newman said.

Both Newman and Martindale believe bars could safely reopen now.

“We have submitted a plan to the governor through the Texas Restaurant Association called ‘The Texas Bar Promise’ and a safety plan through the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance. It’s a playbook that tells us how to proceed in a safe manner,” Newman said.

Texas governor says new announcement on reopening businesses will come next week

“We feel pretty confident that it’s based on science,” Martindale said. “It’s based with the health experts here in Texas and 20 other bars around the state got together to put it put the proposal in place. So we think it’s a logical plan and we think it will get their attention.”

Martindale said when his bar reopens, employees will be wearing masks and gloves and they will practice social distancing and increased sanitation, including providing hand sanitizer at the front door.

“I want everyone to understand we are still here and we are ready to return and serve you safely,” he said.

While they still can’t reopen to the public, The Friendly Spot and Big Hops will show solidarity with other bar owners across the state Friday night by turning on their lights and playing music. You can read more about the “Turn up the Lights” initiative here.

You can watch the full segments with Newman and Martindale in the video player above.

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