Lake Houston-area officials, businesses react to state's May 1 reopening guidelines

Although RC's NYC Pizza & Pasta in New Caney is able to open May 1 for limited capacity dine-in, the eatery will continue to only offer takeout and delivery via its outside pickup. (Courtesy RC's NYC Pizza & Pasta)
Although RC's NYC Pizza & Pasta in New Caney is able to open May 1 for limited capacity dine-in, the eatery will continue to only offer takeout and delivery via its outside pickup. (Courtesy RC's NYC Pizza & Pasta)

Although RC's NYC Pizza & Pasta in New Caney is able to open May 1 for limited capacity dine-in, the eatery will continue to only offer takeout and delivery via its outside pickup. (Courtesy RC's NYC Pizza & Pasta)

Some businesses will be allowed to reopen May 1 as part of Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to slowly stoke the state's economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, Lake Houston-area officials say it is too early to tell how many business owners will choose to reopen and what it will mean for the local economy.

Under Abbott's order, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls can choose to reopen May 1 at 25% occupancy. Barber shop, hair salons, bars and gyms are currently not allowed to reopen, but the order could change around mid-May when business operations expand, Community Impact Newspaper reported.

Mark Linabury, president of the Greater East Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, said he has heard mixed responses from business owners in the area toward Abbott's orders.

"We're excited to reopen even at a limited capacity, but there's some disappointed people, too—there's people in certain industries that'll have to wait longer [to reopen]," Linabury said. "It wasn't great news for everybody, but we're moving in a direction to get the economy going again."

Waiting to reopen


Arturo's Hair Designs owner John Arthur said his Kingwood hair salon is one of the businesses suffering during the coronavirus outbreak. The salon typically offers hair cuts, coloring, extensions and styling for women, men and children as well as facial waxing.

His 15-year-old business has been closed since March, and he said he believes hair salons and barber shops should also be allowed to reopen alongside movie theaters and retailers due to the profession's high sanitary requirements.


"[Gov. Abbott] chose the wrong professions to open up first, as far as I'm concerned," Arthur said. "I guess the governor had his reasons to do that, it's just I know how well we are inspected once or twice a year by the state to make sure we are following our rules of sanitation. ... We are always very well aware of that—that's a day-to-day thing for us."

Although Arthur said he is not sure when his business will be allowed to reopen, once the studio opens he intends to limit clients to appointments only and put his stylists on morning and evening shifts to limit exposure to the community. Additionally, customers and stylists will be required to wear face masks, he said.

"We talked to other hair salons, and they're all itching and ... we're all ready to get back to work," he said.

A reduced capacity


For the businesses that are allowed to reopen, it may be more of a financial burden to operate at only 25% capacity until mid-May, said Jenna Armstrong, president and CEO of the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce.

"I think there's a lot of considerations businesses are weighing right now," she said. "If we open at a 25% capacity, if you're a retailer or restaurant or entertainment business, is that profitable enough ... to reopen?"

Armstrong said she also believes other businesses will choose not to reopen on May 1 due to sanitation and safety concerns, which include providing protective equipment to employees and checking temperatures.

Before Abbott's most recent order, RC's NYC Pizza & Pasta in New Caney had been offering only as takeout and delivery and to-go alcohol sales, per former state orders. Although the eatery is able to open May 1 for limited capacity dine-in, owner Westin Sarvadi said his restaurant will continue to only offer takeout and delivery until restaurants are able to operate at 50% capacity.

"Opening at 25% occupancy inside the store, with the cost of sanitation goods and the rest of that kind of stuff ... it's not really feasible for us," he said. "At the same time, tables are supposed to be 6 feet apart, so based off of our floor plan, if we followed all the guidelines, we wouldn't be able to fit in 25% occupancy in the first place."

When the restaurant does open for dine-in, Sarvadi said he plans to limit dine-in to only the outdoor patio for several weeks to limit social contact.

Unemployment soars


The Texas Workforce Commission has reported the increasing number of unemployment claims, with the agency releasing a new data tool April 29 that tracks claims by ZIP codes. Within the seven ZIP codes that make up Community Impact Newspaper's Lake Houston-area coverage, 14,015 people filed for unemployment between March 18-April 18, according to TWC data.

Local business owners are also seeing some of their employees choose not to return to work, and instead continue to collect unemployment benefits, Armstrong said. Some reasons employees are choosing not to return to work include not feeling like it is safe to return to work, not wanting to expose an elderly family member to the virus, lack of access to adequate childcare, and some making more money via unemployment benefits than through limited hours at work, she said.

"With the backlog that the TWC has right now with unemployment claims, do they have the resources to investigate when someone turns down a position? And are [the employees] going to be able to ride this out and still collect these extra benefits?" Armstrong said.
By Kelly Schafler

Managing editor, South Houston

Kelly joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in June 2017 after majoring in print journalism and creative writing at the University of Houston. In March 2019, she transitioned to editor for the Lake Houston-Humble-Kingwood edition and began covering the Spring and Klein area as well in August 2020. In June 2021, Kelly was promoted to South Houston managing editor.