Dear Governor Abbott:
I am writing this letter in response to the order to close bars in Texas on June 26th. I have the great joy of owning a small pool hall and bar in San Marcos called Cats Billiards. I started working at Cats as part-time security staff. From there, I transitioned to bartending and worked my way up to general manager.
In July of 2015, I bought Cats from the man who opened and operated it since 1985.
He was my mentor and a dear friend and, even though his business was older than I was, he expressed every confidence that I would be successful in this venture. Though as I sit here in my office typing this letter, I fear it is all slipping away.
We have barely begun the long road to recovering from the financial devastation of the first shutdown, that left my business a heartbeat away from bankruptcy. I and my employees, whom I love like family, are behind on bills, and whatever meager savings we had are long gone.
Our ability to make money has been severely limited by new restrictions, all of which we have followed, and we are facing another shutdown. This time, however, we are in one of only two industries facing this shutdown.
You stated in a press release that “it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars.” I can tell you that my staff and I have complied with every mandate, restriction, and guideline given to us.
My employees have been masked while at work since day one of reopening. We have adhered to the capacity limits and the social distancing guidelines. We set up hand sanitizing stations, posted health policy and covid-19 prevention info around the bar, and continuously sanitized high contact surfaces. We followed mask mandates from Hays County even though there are no penalties for not doing so.
After conversations with owners and staff of other establishments, I know that I am far from the only one going to these lengths to prevent the spread of covid-19.
This makes me question the basis for your assumption that bars are driving the rise in cases. Is there any evidence to support the idea that bars are the culprit and not a myriad of other social interactions taking place in daily life?
Are Texans more likely to contract covid-19 at a bar than HEB, a local restaurant, our houses of worship, or an office building, or barbershop, or hardware store? I can assure you that my staff is just as responsible and committed to our customers’ safety as any other business.
We are even more highly regulated than most other industries. No less than 4 TABC agents have visited us to make sure we are following social distancing guidelines.
After all the effort we have put into ensuring the safety of our customers, and thereby our community, how can you deny us the right to do business while allowing it for others?
Responsibly run bars do not pose a greater threat to public safety than any other responsibly run business, regardless of what product they sell or service they provide.
I also have to question the constitutional implications of an order solely banning bars from daily operations. Our Freedom of Association as guaranteed to us by the First Amendment.
I can think of no other place, except perhaps salons and barbershops, where citizens routinely gather and discuss the burning political issues of the day.
On a daily basis in my establishment, I hear conversations among friends about philosophy, political discourse, hopes, aspirations, religion, and lived experiences.
The First Amendment does not just protect our right to public protest, but it protects any establishment or institution wherein the free marketplace of ideas is being exchanged.
Is it not the State’s burden to provide strict critical analysis and empirical evidence that such a place is the sole cause of measurable harm before acting against them?
In the absence of such evidence, I see no way to interpret this order other than impulsive and reactionary.
Your title as Governor gives you much authority in times of emergency, but it does not give you the power to act in an arbitrary and capricious manner.
Do not force over 47,000 Texas bartenders back on government assistance just as the federal money is running out. Do not force my employees out of a job just as they are starting to get their feet under them.
Please do not force me out of the business I have worked so hard for, and the life I am trying to make for myself. We have done nothing wrong.
We are obeying the law. We are working hard to keep each other safe and healthy while keeping food on our plates and a roof over our heads.
I don’t mean this letter as a political attack, ploy, or lecture. This is both a cry for reason and a plea for compassion.
There is no amount of pride I would not swallow to protect the livelihoods and aspirations of my amazing employees, so I am begging you. Do not do this. Many businesses did not survive the first shutdown, and many more will not survive this one.
I know you must be under a great deal of pressure. I see the volatile discourse on social media surrounding the subject of coronavirus.
I see the news pundits ignoring a global 2nd wave and trying to pretend like Texas and Florida are the only places with rising cases. I can only imagine how that further complicates the difficulty of balancing the economic needs of Texans with the desire to keep them safe.
I pray for you, Governor Abbott, I truly do. I voted for you in the last two elections, confident that you were the best choice for Texas. However, I firmly believe that in blaming bars for rising cases, you could not be more wrong.
Do not sacrifice us as scapegoats on the altar of public opinion. Instead, defend our right to work, our right to feed our families, our right to run the businesses we’ve built. Reverse this order and give us our livelihoods back, please.
Matthew A Reiber