Lake Conroe-area businesses, restaurants prepare for reopening

Some businesses that have been closed across the Lake Conroe area are preparing to reopen. (Andy Li & Kaitlin Schmidt/Community Impact Newspaper)
Some businesses that have been closed across the Lake Conroe area are preparing to reopen. (Andy Li & Kaitlin Schmidt/Community Impact Newspaper)

Some businesses that have been closed across the Lake Conroe area are preparing to reopen. (Andy Li & Kaitlin Schmidt/Community Impact Newspaper)

Before the pandemic, Marisa Philipello, owner of Phil’s Roadhouse in Montgomery, worked alongside about 15 employees every day. Now, she’s down to two besides herself.

“It's very different—not having any lights on, you know; people calling; not having the familiar faces of the town,” Phillipello said. “So, very different. Very sad, too.”

As Lake Conroe-area businesses prepare for the county to reopen May 1, some, like Phil’s Roadhouse, have raised concerns over what returning to normal looks like.

Philipello has been offering to-go and delivery services throughout the closure. However, for a number of reasons, Philipello said she will not reopen May 1 at 25% capacity as allowed by the state, even as Montgomery County clashes with Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders. She said a quarter of her usual 130-person capacity is simply not enough to warrant bringing her staff back on-site.

“For the safety of the staff that, you know, is here right now [and for] the safety of our customers, we want to wait,” Philipello said.

Even though the financial pressure for both herself and her employees is growing, Philipello said she wants to see how other businesses who do open up handle it.

Shannan Reid, director of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, said she has been urging businesses that are open to going through certain steps to ensure the safety of their staff and customers.

“On the community front, it is interesting just how many people are nervous and very cautious, even though we talk a big talk about wanting to be fully open,” Reid said. “They are curious about safety measures that businesses are taking.”

One of those businesses will be the Southern Star Brewing Company in Conroe. Dave Fougeron, the brewery’s president, said he will not open the indoor taproom but will utilize the 13.5 acres on which the brewery sits to effectively social distance customers.

“People are ready to get back to some semblance of normal, I think, and, you know, a taproom ... has traditionally provided a place for people to sit and relax and hang out with each other and a sense of community, especially,” Fougeron said. “So we're anxious to open back [up].”

The outbreak has hit craft breweries especially hard, according to Fougeron. He said before the outbreak, craft beers made up about 10% of the beer market share. Now, they are down to 2.5% as of April 29.

“Our sales have been really, really bad out of the marketplace because I think people are just afraid kind of economically now,” Fougeron said, "and they're not spending any extra money.”

Because several thousand gallons of his brew will expire in a few weeks, Fourgeron said he hopes to throw some kind of a free beer event, county regulations permitting, to say thank you to the community that supported them during the outbreak.

“I'm a little bit leery about doing that because if 1,000 people show up [to] that, nobody's gonna be able to social distance, but we’ll see,” Fourgeron said. “We might be in different regulations by them.”

Reid said other businesses are creating strategies to safely open, including taking only reservations or waiting until they can open to 50% capacity.

“Across the board, I’m hearing all our businesses in 'preparation mode,' including signage, procedures and other such necessary steps to be open to the public,” Reid said. “We are eager to see everyone open soon.”
By Andy Li
Originally from Boone, North Carolina, Andy Li is a graduate of East Carolina University with degrees in Communication with a concentration in Journalism and Political Science. While in school, he worked as a performing arts reporter, news, arts and copy editor and a columnist at the campus newspaper, The East Carolinian. He also had the privilege to work with NPR’s Next Generation Radio, a project for student journalists exploring radio news. Moving to Houston in May 2019, he now works as the reporter for the Conroe/Montgomery edition of Community Impact Newspaper.


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