Texas businesses returning during coronavirus are unlikely to spur fast economic recovery people need

"It's going to be really hard for managers," says Donna Heath, "because we have to make sure the new procedures are followed while also maintaining our warm relationship with our guests." Heath is a manager at The Barn Door Restaurant in San Antonio. (Christopher Lee for The Texas Tribune)
"It's going to be really hard for managers," says Donna Heath, "because we have to make sure the new procedures are followed while also maintaining our warm relationship with our guests." Heath is a manager at The Barn Door Restaurant in San Antonio. (Christopher Lee for The Texas Tribune)

Serving San Antonio for more than 60 years, The Barn Door Restaurant has long prioritized treating patrons with warmth and friendliness. Donna Heath has proudly upheld that standard as a manager, and she often greets guests by name and sometimes with a hug.

But when the restaurant reopened Tuesday night for the first time after closing its dining room during the coronavirus outbreak, it meant new responsibilities for Heath — ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott.

"It's going to be really hard for managers," Heath said in an interview, "because we have to make sure the new procedures are followed while also maintaining our warm relationship with our guests."

As part of Abbott’s goal to energize the flailing Texas economy, restaurants have been given the all-clear to open dining rooms at half capacity beginning Friday, up from the 25% capacity cap he ordered when initially allowing restaurants to reopen with restrictions in early May. Child care facilities, bars and sports events will also now be able to return with restrictions in place, Abbott said.

But the workers and customers who are beginning to reemerge into a society still grappling with a spreading virus are navigating a vastly different world than the one they left behind weeks or months ago. During his announcement Monday, Abbott made clear that he was trying to get the economy moving again while also limiting the spread of the virus. He repeatedly told Texans to keep their distance from each other and routinely wash their hands.

"The more we do that, the more we can safely open up," he said. "The more safely we can open up, the more Texans can get back to work, pay their bills, get off the unemployment lines and get back into the workforce."

But the power Abbott and officials across the globe used to close businesses and stop the spread of the virus does not extend to the economic revival, analysts said. As Abbott hands control of reopening back to business-owning Texans, not all restaurants, retailers, gyms and hair salons across the state will do so.

“It’s not that easy to reopen and everybody comes back and you just turn on the faucet,” Joyce Beebe, an economist at Rice University, said in an interview.