Sugar Land, Missouri City businesses struggle as Texas’ reopening backslides

Although many local businesses are able to operate at 50% capacity, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered bars to close again and business capacity dropped back down from 75% in late June due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Although many local businesses are able to operate at 50% capacity, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered bars to close again and business capacity dropped back down from 75% in late June due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Although many local businesses are able to operate at 50% capacity, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered bars to close again and business capacity dropped back down from 75% in late June due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Although many local businesses are able to operate at 50% capacity as Texas begins to reopen, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered bars to close again and business capacity dropped back down from 75% in late June due to the increase in COVID-19 cases the state began seeing earlier in the month.

In the wake of these limitations, local business owners in Sugar Land and Missouri City are struggling.

Nathan Rees, owner of Texas Leaguer Brewing Co. in Missouri City, said the second closure of bars has been even more challenging than the first.

“We had that nice little spark in June where everything opened back up, and now July’s been even worse than the spring because even though restaurants are opened back up there, not as many people are going to them, and bars are not picking up any beer at all,” Rees said. “So it’s just a different climate right now, for sure.”

Local business owners adapt


Although Texas Leaguer Brewing Co. offers an open-concept facility, the establishment was required to close again in late June because more than 51% of its sales are from alcohol, Rees said. It was not until the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission issued the option for temporary license modifications for breweries in mid-July that Rees had the option to reopen the brewery’s patio area.

“It’s one of the safest places you can go and sit and enjoy a beer,” Rees said.

However, July 22 the TABC released clarified guidance that breweries whose alcohol sales comprise 51% or more of sales still may not allow customers to consume alcohol on the premises.

Rees said July 23 he is still seeking clarity on the reversal. The brewery has lost 80% of its normal revenue during the pandemic, he said.

Irfan Motiwala, co-owner of Alings Chinese Cuisine in Sugar Land, said his restaurant has had to adapt and learn new ways of doing business.

“We had to invest in [personal protective equipment] for the staff and guests,” Motiwala said. “We had to build plexiglass dividers for safe pickup. We seat tables 6 feet apart and use disposable menus and packaged condiments. Since our business is 80% takeout, we had to restructure our kitchen and create new positions to better serve our takeout, curbside and delivery guests.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Motiwala said Alings lost 70% of its business. However, as of mid-July business was down 25%, he said. Despite the loss of business and COVID-19 hardships, Alings continues to offer complimentary meals to medical professionals and first responders and has provided over 7,000 meals as of mid-July, Motiwala said.

“Under the circumstances, we are blessed to do well enough to stay open and retain our staff,” Motiwala said. “We are open at 50% dine-in [capacity], and our patio is open for outdoor dining.”

Rees said he had to furlough his taproom employees at Texas Leaguer Brewing Co. Outside-sales staff members were still furloughed as of July 22, he said.

“The hardest part has been our taproom staff, which they’re all hourly workers that really operate off tips, and there’s just no way to employ them without a taproom,” he said.

Although unemployment insurance claims in Sugar Land and Missouri City ZIP codes have decreased from 10,658 from March 25-April 25, all five ZIP codes are still seeing thousands of claims as of early July with 3,898 claims made from June 10-July 11, according to Texas Workforce Commission data.

Despite the closures, Rees said the brewery has been offering beer to go during the pandemic and adjusting production accordingly.

“We’ve had to-go this entire time, which we’re grateful for,” he said. “I can’t imagine, you know, this time last year that law wasn’t in effect. So I’m glad that’s been something that happened within the year that has helped us during this time.”

Pandemic economic effects

Local sales tax revenue in Sugar Land has also taken a hit in the wake of stay-at-home orders and reduced capacity at businesses. In response, the city of Sugar Land launched its Sweet Cash program in June to stimulate the economy.

Motiwala, who registered Alings as a participating business in the Sweet Cash program, said it has been helpful as his restaurant tries to recover.

“Sweet Cash has been doing well for us. ... We got quite a few guests coming in to purchase gift cards to participate in the program,” he said.

Through the program, when customers purchase gift cards of at least $40 at any local business in Sugar Land, they have the opportunity to submit proof of this purchase online. In return, the customer receives a gift card worth 50% of their purchase to a participating business, and a front-line worker or organization receives a gift card worth the other half.

As Sugar Land is in its budget planning season, Assistant City Manager Jennifer May said during a July 21 City Council meeting that financial accomplishments from the previous year as well as resiliency efforts prepared the city for emergencies such as COVID-19, but Sugar Land is not immune.

“When you look at just sales tax alone, we are projecting a more than $4 million decline when you look at the fiscal year [2020-21] projections versus what we actually collected in fiscal year [2019-20],” May said.

From January to July 2019, Sugar Land received $31.5 million in sales tax revenue. As of this July, Sugar Land has received $29.2 million in sales tax revenue in 2020—a roughly 7% decrease year over year, according to the Texas comptroller of public accounts website.

As a local business owner who contributes to Sugar Land’s local economy, Motiwala said he looks forward to the end of the pandemic.

“We do miss seeing the restaurant filled with lots of people, the noise, the celebrations and, most of all, socializing with our guests,” Motiwala said. “When this is over I am gonna hug everyone I see.”
By Beth Marshall
Born and raised in Montgomery County, Beth Marshall graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in communication and a minor in business. Originally hired as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in 2016, she became editor of the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition in October 2017.


MOST RECENT

Houston City Hall in rainbow lighting
Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce celebrates five years of service

The organization is open to all and serves members throughout the Greater Houston area.

Fort Bend County residents will be notified via email, text message or phone call with information about their COVID-19 vaccine appointment. (Courtesy Pexels)
Fort Bend County announces new COVID-19 vaccination system

More Fort Bend County residents than before can now sign up and be placed on a waitlist for a COVID-19 vaccine, thanks to the county's new registration system.

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from Fort Bend County. (Community Impact staff)
Fort Bend County surpasses 50,000 coronavirus cases; testing slowed during winter storm

Fort Bend County Health & Human Services has recorded 1,512 new coronavirus cases since the Feb. 15 winter storm that resulted in days of freezing temperatures and widespread power outages.

The new Fort Bend Epicenter multipurpose facility could be used as a spot for trade shows and sporting events, could act as a large-scale shelter for county residents in an emergency and more. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Large multipurpose complex coming to Fort Bend County; Sugar Land to widen University Blvd. and more top Houston-area news

Read the top business and community news from the past week from the Houston area.

Snow covers I-45 in Houston during a winter storm that hit Texas the night of Feb. 14. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Legislators probe energy officials over power failures, lack of preparation heading into winter storm

The Texas Legislature held hearings Feb. 25 with energy companies including Oncor Electric Delivery and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas in response to last week’s historic winter storm, which left millions of Texans without electricity for days.

Keith Luechtefeld spoke with Community Impact Newspaper about some of the short-term and long-term repercussions of the storm as well as some of the reasons why so many homes saw burst pipes during the freezing weather. (Community Impact staff)
Q&A: Greater Houston Builders Association President Keith Luechtefeld discusses power, plumbing, frozen pipes after Winter Storm Uri

Keith Luechtefeld spoke with Community Impact Newspaper about some of the short-term and long-term repercussions of the storm as well as some of the reasons why so many homes saw burst pipes during the freezing weather.

Winter Storm Uri led to closures across the Greater Houston area during the third week of February. (Courtesy Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County)
‘It’s been a rough year for us’: Expert explains economic effects of winter storm, ongoing pandemic in Houston region

“It's been a rough year for us economically; it's been a rough year for us public health wise. It's just been a rough year for us psychologically—first the coronavirus and then the freeze," said Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research with the Greater Houston Partnership.

Traffic cone, hard hat, construction equipment, motor grader. (Courtesy Fotolia)
With eminent domain ongoing, construction pushed back on Knight Road extension in Missouri City

Once complete, Knight Road will connect the Fort Bend Parkway Toll Road to McKeever Road.

Bounce Bounce Trampoline Park is slated to open in Missouri City this summer. (Courtesy Bounce Bounce)
Bounce Bounce Trampoline Park delays Missouri City opening until summer

When it opens this summer, the indoor activity park will feature wall-to-wall trampolines as well as trampoline sports courts, a foam pit, a zip line and other attractions.

The $560 million central processor, which is part of the new Mickey Leland International Terminal, will replace the parking garage for terminals D and E. (Courtesy Houston Airport System)
Parking garage at George Bush Intercontinental Airport to be demolished to make way for new Mickey Leland International Terminal

The international central processor, which is part of the new Mickey Leland International Terminal, will replace the parking garage for terminals D and E.