Downtown businesses recovering from coronavirus shutdown face challenges related to protests

Business

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Texas is entering Phase 3 of his reopening plan — allowing restaurants to increase their capacity to 75% and bars to 50%.

“Texas is getting back to normal with regard to opening up businesses,” the Governor said.

Some downtown Austin business owners said, however, it’s going to be easier said than done.

“[It was a] really scary time for us,” said Musa Ato, Founder and President League of Rebels, a men’s clothing store on West Second Street.

He said even after the state allowed shops to reopen on May 1 after being shut down for several weeks due to the coronavirus concerns, “It’s very tough to catch up, especially with such a long period of time. It wasn’t a situation of doors come open, and everyone comes running in.”

“We need customers,” said Shelley Meyer, another downtown business owner. “If we’re going to survive, we need customers and we need them soon. So anything that delays customers from coming into our door is a concern.”

Meyer is co-founder of Wild About Music. She also has three other stores downtown.

Like many other local small business owners, she had to apply for the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

“We picked a pretty difficult weekend to reopen with some of the concepts, Toy Joy and Yummi Joy in downtown Austin,” Meyer explained. “We had plans for them to open Friday and Saturday of last week, and of course, that’s when most of the protest activity got started.”

The business owners told KXAN last weekend’s demonstrations that turned violent have made an already difficult situation even more challenging.

“We have the current situation which compounds the matter and makes everyone even more cautious and wanting to stay home,” Ato said.

Last weekend, Ato said “I found myself checking the cameras every couple, at least every half hour.”

He said his store wasn’t damaged and hopes any future protests will be peaceful.

Meyer said it’s hard to be worried about tagging and property damage when an entire sector of people are being “brutalized and marginalized.”

She put up signs in her Congress Avenue store’s display window that read Black Lives Matter and Justice for George Floyd. “We’ve been tagged and we worry about property damage, but we understand the rage and urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Meyer told KXAN.

The business owners also said, they rely heavily on tourists. But with the coronavirus, they worry tourism will be the last thing to pick back up, so they’re even more concerned about their long-term economic future.

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