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‘We’re Trying To Survive’: As States Reopen, Business Owners, Customers Test New Social Rules

By Dana Branham The Dallas Morning News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) What will life look like for New Yorkers once the shutdown is lifted? Dana Branham takes a look at how business owners in Texas are slowly re-opening with new rules, policies and procedures in place.

Dallas

North Texans cautiously emerged from their homes Friday, seeking a semblance of normalcy at restaurants, golf courses -- even the gun range -- as Texas allowed its first wave of businesses to reopen after they were shuttered to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In Dallas, shoppers and diners treaded carefully after more than a month under stay-at-home orders. Business owners and workers saw quiet days for their shops as many people stayed home. Some wondered whether Texas was lifting restrictions too soon. Others reveled in a glimmer of what life looked like before the virus took hold.

In the first phase of Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to reopen Texas, some businesses -- such as stores, restaurants and movie theaters -- were allowed to open Friday at 25% capacity. Not all did.

If the state doesn't see a spike in coronavirus cases by May 18, a little over two weeks from now, Abbott could allow businesses to expand their capacity, and salons and gyms may be allowed to reopen in the state's second phase.

The reopening came as Dallas County recorded a new single-day high for COVID-19 cases. The county reported 187 news cases and two deaths. The county has now had 106 deaths and 3,718 cases.

Venturing out with caution Robert Coggins, 71, was one of the first customers to return to his "usual breakfast place" -- Lucky's Cafe in Oak Lawn. He forgot his mask at home Friday morning, but went back to retrieve it before his meal.

At Lucky's, there were fewer tables, naked per the governor's guidelines. The rolled silverware customers usually grabbed on the way in were gone. So were condiments that once took up too much space on the tables. The menus were printed on paper, disposed of after a single use.No more than a dozen people filled in seats and booths. Some wore their masks around their necks while they ate.

"I thought there would be more people," said Coggins, a hairdresser who has been out of work for nearly seven weeks. "I think they did a good job with the layout. I feel safe."

In Pleasant Grove, Latrice Skinner was one of several customers Friday morning at Stereo Express on South Buckner Boulevard.

Skinner said she supported the governor's decision to slowly reopen businesses. She would rather just "keep living," she said, than to stay home indefinitely.

"It's bad. Ain't ever been in a situation like this," Skinner said, lowering her mask on her face as she spoke. "How can they tell us when this is over and it's OK, when they don't even know what's going on?"

Later in the day, at El Ranchito Tortas y Tacos in the White Rock neighborhood, customers steadily came by for takeout. Nearly all used face masks. No one sat inside.

Bilingual signs like this one papered the door: "No mascarilla, no servicio." Hospital worker Angela Skidmore, wearing a mask, walked out with several orders of hot fragrant tacos -- a treat for her coworkers.

"We are being very cautious because of the industry we are in," Skidmore said.

Others weren't ready to venture out.

Bonnie Canelakes of Dallas has kept her distance from others since late February. When she saw how rapidly cases were growing in China, she thought "there was no way it wasn't coming here," she said.

Being immune-suppressed, she's not ready to spend time in public. Plus, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is her "hero," said Canelakes, 63. "I go by what he thinks," she said. "And I know that he is hesitant to be reopening."

John Gallagher, 49, doesn't want to see Texas follow Georgia, which reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases Friday after its governor allowed many businesses -- including salons and gyms -- to reopen a week ago.

He said his family saw the "writing on the wall" and isolated themselves even before local orders required them to stay home, though he has continued to work.

They're stir-crazy, he said, but they're not ready to return to normal life. "I live downtown," Gallagher added. "I see people starting to relax, and it's going to be a bad move."

'Almost not worth it' Some shops given the green light to welcome customers inside again weren't ready to open their doors Friday.

On bustling Jefferson Boulevard in north Oak Cliff, Patricia Martinez, a 42-year-old seamstress, worked in the back of Celebración Bridal sewing protective masks and altering dresses.

The shop is open, but customers weren't allowed inside. Not yet. Instead, Martinez's boss asked customers to call ahead so dresses or other purchases could be brought outside to their cars.

Working limited hours so far, Martinez said she nonetheless wished the reopening was halted or slowed down. It may hurt some people financially, she added, but going slower is best for everyone in the long run.

"Yes, I know we can open at 25% capacity, but it doesn't feel right. Maybe once there's a vaccine or there are less cases it would be good," Martinez said. "We're seeing more and more cases right as they say we can reopen. It's a bad time, I think."

Goodfriend Beer Garden & Burger House -- which has rebranded as Good Citizen during the pandemic -- in the White Rock neighborhood wasn't ready to offer dine-in service Friday. It offered only takeout.

A partial opening is "almost not worth it," said co-owner Matt Tobin. Tobin talked to his staff about opening Friday, and "95% are uncomfortable coming to work," he said.

Tobin, his partner and their spouses also thought it was too soon. "My concern is that this has all become political, and it's gross," he said. Sighing, the tattooed entrepreneur said, "What the government is allowing us to do is not driving our decision to reopen."

Other businesses across Dallas saw a sleepy Friday, with relatively few visitors.

The Harry Hines Bazaar and Plaza Latina, two northwest Dallas bazaars popular among the city's Hispanic community, were practically empty.

Maribel Marure, who works in a store selling candles and religious figurines, blamed fear for the empty hallways.

She feels it herself, even though she's happy to return to work after two months without a job.

"I feel fearful because this virus does not stop," she said. "I believe that people are afraid, and therefore it is empty. I think it will take time for this to get up."

Visitors to Elm Fork Shooting Sports in northwest Dallas were limited, too. The first gunshot Friday rang out at 12:09 p.m., a few minutes after the range opened.

Within minutes, more than a dozen cars had pulled into spaces at the parking lot of the shooting range, and the gunfire sounded more like microwave popcorn.

But business owner Scott Robertson would've preferred silence.

"We're losing money like crazy," he said. "It would be cheaper for me to keep the gate closed, 100 percent."

He said restrictions on business capacity limit his revenue. Half the shooting lanes were closed, and golf carts for zipping around the facility may now only carry one person at a time. Robertson is keeping his entire staff employed with only the chance to bring in a quarter of his regular revenue, he said.

"As a business owner, I have to lose money and invest money in my people to try and keep them, so when this does turn around, I have staff left," he said.

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