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

Editor, Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood

Kelly Schafler is the editor for the Lake Houston, Humble and Kingwood edition of Community Impact Newspaper, covering public education, city government, development, businesses, local events and all things community-related. Before she became editor, she was the reporter for the Conroe and Montgomery edition for a year and a half.



MOST RECENT

Council Member Robert Gallegos, Arturo Michel, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Ron Lewis.
Mayor announces changes among Houston’s top-level staff

Several key staff are retiring or leaving for new positions.

Montgomery County COVID-19 updates
Active COVID-19 cases double in Montgomery County since Nov. 17

Since Monday, active cases countywide have risen 13.1%, while four more deaths have been reported.

Community Impact Newspaper uses data from New Caney and Humble ISDs to compile weekly case counts. (Community Impact staff)
New Caney, Humble ISDs see sharp increase in active coronavirus case counts

Both districts have seen a large increase in active cases as compared to their pre-Thanksgiving numbers.

Doug Hooten was announced as the first executive director of Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 on Dec. 3. (Courtesy Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11)
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 hires first executive director

Doug Hooten has 35 years of experience in EMS, according to a Dec. 3 press release.

Kings Crossing shopping center, located at the northwest corner of Kingwood Drive and West Lake Houston Parkway, will undergo renovations under new management. (Screenshot courtesy Kingwood BizCom and SDI Realty)
Kingwood's 'old H-E-B center' to undergo redevelopment, gain new tenants with acquisition

The Kings Crossing shopping center at the northwest corner of Kingwood Drive and West Lake Houston Parkway is being acquired by SDI Realty Advisors.

The Woodlands Township board of directors met at the township building Dec. 2. (Screenshot via The Woodlands Township)
COVID-19 patients in more than 15% of Montgomery County hospital beds; free testing seeing demand in The Woodlands

The percentage of COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds in Montgomery County was more than 15% in early December.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Dec. 2 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has allotted 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to the state of Texas. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
First allotment of COVID-19 vaccinations expected to arrive in Texas in mid-December

About 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been allotted to the state of Texas and will arrive the week of Dec. 14.

The East Montgomery County Industrial Park off Gene Campbell Road will welcome the Lowe's Distribution Center in July. (Courtesy East Montgomery County Improvement District)
Lowe's to bring 200 jobs to Montgomery County and more Houston-area news

Read the latest Houston-area business and community news.

Harris County has launched a tool to allow homeowners to identify appraisal activity in their neighborhood. (Courtesy Pexels)
Harris County Appraisal District launches new 'Appraiser Field Operations Map' tool

Harris County has launched a tool to allow homeowners to identify appraisal activity in their neighborhood.

Humble ISD has proposed a 2021-22 calendar similar to the calendars of the last two years. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Humble ISD seeks parent, staff feedback on proposed 2021-22 calendar

Humble ISD has proposed a 2021-22 calendar similar to the calendars of the last two years.

The letter came a week after Longoria was virtually sworn into the office by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Nov. 18. (Screenshot via Zoom)
Harris County scrambles to make creation of Elections Administrator Office lawful after Attorney General's letter identifies deficiencies

Harris County is working to make right the appointment of Isabel Longoria as the county's first-ever elections administrator after County Attorney Vince Ryan received a letter Nov. 25 from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stating that the county did not follow the proper appointment process.