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Coronavirus diaries: Bar owner waits on hold after Dallas County closure

Coronavirus diaries: Bar owner waits on hold after Dallas County close

Brizo Bar
Cleaning the bar turned out to be not enough. Photo courtesy of Brizo

Editor's note: This is the latest entry in our series about how people in Dallas-Fort Worth are adjusting to the new realities of living amid the coronavirus pandemic. Reid Robinson is one of the owners of Brizo, a bar that recently opened in Richardson.

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Brizo is a Greek goddess, and namesake of the neighborhood bar and restaurant in Richardson that I own with some friends. We began construction in October — the same week that several tornadoes ravaged areas of Dallas and Richardson last October. This is when Brizo was born.

My partners and I spent time fussing over details such as a marble topped bar, and a bookcase doorway leading to a secret bar space. We finally opened in February.

We found our crowd and they found us: Young professionals, parents, and professors enjoying cocktails, conversation, and charcuterie. Our grand opening on February 29 was a smash. We were beginning to book an impressive list of private and public events, and had regular customers join us daily. It was exhilarating to see our friends and neighbors enjoy themselves at the newest spot in town.

Virus lands
Then everything unraveled two weeks later. As of March 19, Dallas County Health & Human Services has seen 74 cases of COVID-19, and that includes 2 cases in Richardson.

We were aware of COVID-19, and began taking extra precautions: sanitizing chairs, tables, and the bar every hour, disinfecting contact surfaces, diligently washing our hands. It turned out to be not enough.

On Monday, March 16, following a measure enacted by Dallas County, we were forced to close our doors, suddenly sending an amazing family of staff home. We are paying all employees through March 21, including the staff at our 41-year-old bar next door, Forum Country Club.

One of our partners has offered some staff a job at his printer business until we can re-open, and we’re doing whatever we can to help.

In the meantime, we've applied for governmental loans, and are working on other strategies such as gift certificates and live-streaming cocktail demos for our customers stuck at home.

It’s taking a little while to reconfigure since we are so new, but we are trying to keep everything afloat.

Bars need help
Our bar is just one of hundreds of thousands of places across the nation who stand to lose everything, but if we can collectively get COVID-19 under control in the next several weeks, our community may be able to cautiously reopen their doors.

I'm hearing about the trillion-plus dollar economic stimulus plan that includes casinos and airlines, the latter who squandered their profits on stock buybacks over the last 10 years. But there is virtual silence on how this will aid the hospitality industry. Somewhere around 20 million Americans work in hospitality and leisure, where nearly all jobs vanished overnight, and this doesn’t include the food and beverage distributors whose customer base has dried up.

Cafes, pubs, coffee shops, and distilleries are the street level meeting places and performance halls of our neighborhoods. To preserve these vital parts of our community, the entire industry needs equitable and accessible economic aid packages for restaurants and bars, both big and small.

One meaningful option would be the deferral of Texas sales tax collected from drinks sold in February. In addition to sales tax, bars also pay a 6.7 percent mixed beverage gross receipts tax — paid by the business, not its customers.

There's a petition on change.org asking the state of Texas to cancel or delay Mixed Beverage Gross & Sales Taxes, and/or Sales tax for a period of time. "Payment of these taxes will undoubtedly cause even greater financial burden on already struggling businesses that are closing or being forced to close to stop the outbreak," it says. "This delay or cancel of tax will provide financial relief immediately to businesses that will file to pay the March 20th tax due. Federal tax credits at the end of this year will not help cash flow, but cessation of beverage taxes can help NOW."

Rent is also a major issue. And it's going to be an apocalyptic reality for many landlords if they're not flexible right now.

The restrictions against public gatherings, which affects our bar, are set to extend through the end of April. If that date is a reality, we'll hire back as many of our original staff as possible, and bring on new people as quickly as we can. We're luckier than some in that we are a small operation and can reopen in just a few days notice.

I worry that bigger operators, with huge rent and overhead, will crash and burn if this goes on too long.

We were thrilled to have founded a place for our community. We hope to be a vital part of our neighborhood in the near future.

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