Texas bar owners say they’re going broke and are desperate for Abbott to lay out a reopening plan

Emil Bragdon’s bars have been shut down for almost two months, he’s running out of money. And lately, he’s been asking himself: What would Shelley Luther do?

Bragdon said he and other bar owners across Texas that he talks to are seriously contemplating opening up illegally to get the governor’s attention.

After all, it worked for hair salons, Bragdon reasons, referring to Luther, the Dallas businesswoman who gained national attention for illegally reopening her salon and being sentenced to jail after refusing to apologize. Gov. Greg Abbott ultimately allowed salons to reopen May 8 — more than a week ahead of his initial schedule following Luther’s ruckus and pressure from within his own party.

“This one lady did it and she got a lot of attention and now all the salons are open,” Bragdon said. “Is that something we have to do? Because if we have to do that we'll do it.”

Texas bar owners like Bragdon and out-of-work bartenders say they’re desperate for Abbott to set a date and outline procedures for their reopening, as he’s already done for retail, restaurants and most recently hair salons and barbershops.

“You’re definitely sitting closer to a stylist at a salon than you are with other people at the bar,” said Jennifer Bonilla, who has worked as a bartender at The Billiard Den in Richardson for 11 years. She went from working five days a week to just two or three days working to set up a socially distanced version of the bar for its eventual reopening. Now Bonilla barely makes enough to cover utilities for her and her mother.

The bar industry has been completely shut down for more than 50 days, banned from take out sales that have allowed some restaurants to limp by, even as restaurants were given some permissions to sell to-go booze. Texas bars have shed about 75,000 jobs and $630 million in revenue due to mandatory shutdowns. That’s also cost the state about $40 million in liquor tax revenue, said Kelsey Erickson Streufert, Texas Restaurant Association’s vice president of government affairs and advocacy.

“It’s been devastating,” Erickson Streufert said.