Mark Martinez, owner of The Garden in Lubbock’s Depot District, already bought inventory for the weekend rush. Hours before opening, the governor said that wasn’t going to happen.
“It was inevitable," Martinez said. "With the amount of cases that we’ve been seeing throughout Texas, I knew it was coming. But to be told the morning of that you have to shut down, that’s just not right.”
At 9 a.m. Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the closure of bars effective at noon, an effort to lessen the spread of coronavirus. Restaurants were also called to reduce capacity limits from 75% to 50%, effective Monday.
Bars, where it can be harder to socially distance, have been considered hot spots for the highly contagious virus.
After a two-month closure, bars could reopen at 25% capacity on May 22. The indoor capacity limit increased to 50% almost two weeks later.
In an interview with El Paso news station KVIA, Abbott said bars may have reopened too soon.
“The bar setting, in reality, just doesn’t work in a pandemic," the governor said. "People go to bars to get close, to drink and to socialize. That’s the kind of thing that stokes the spread of the coronavirus. So sure, in hindsight, it may have been better to have slowed the opening of the bar setting.”
The majority of Texans who have tested positive for COVID-19 since June have been under age 30, Abbott said in the middle of the month as active cases and hospitalizations began to rise across the state.
The 20-29 age group now accounts for most active COVID-19 cases in Lubbock. Contact tracing done by the health department tracked the outbreak to popular bars. One was closed by the city and a second was closed by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. A few others temporarily closed for voluntary deep cleaning.
Martinez said the new closing mandate isn’t a surprise. But it is a damaging blow.
“Some bars weren’t following social distancing protocols and they were packing it in," he said. "It’s unfortunate now that a lot of us have to be shut down.”
The Garden is an outdoor bar. Martinez said he was sticking to a 25% capacity. In hindshight, though, he said part of him wishes he had allowed more people in, maximizing profits while he could.
Martinez said he received two emergency business loans and expects to be financially OK. But he knows not every small business is as lucky, including the many parts of the bar and restaurant supply chain and entertainers whose shows were cancelled by the latest venue closures.
For him, the lack of direction from the state has created the most uncertainty.
“They’re killing small business," Martinez said. "At the end of the day, a lot of us aren’t going to rebound.”