Dallas-Fort Worth bar owners worry about the future
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The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission slapped 18 club owners with suspensions after attending Freedom Fest, Saturday’s statewide protest aimed at challenging the governor’s latest arrest order in the event of a pandemic.
Organizer Chris Polone, owner of Rail Club Live in Fort Worth, said he was also in the spotlight. This week, the TABC announced that it has also opened an investigation into his club.
“They are committing small business genocide, that’s what they are doing,” Polone said of the TABC. “It’s like USSR-type stuff.”
The state’s alcoholic beverage regulatory agency did not respond to a request for comment.
Polone’s license was suspended earlier in the month after he staged another protest at his club. Barring an additional penalty, he will be reinstated on August 5, he said.
The Rail Club did not serve any alcohol during Freedom Fest, Polone said, and only 40 people attended.
Wednesday, the TABC posted a video from inside the Rail Club to his Facebook page. Legend claimed that she was shot and killed by an undercover agent during Saturday’s event.
Polone doubts this to be true, however; he said he knew everyone there. Additionally, he suspects the 12-second video could have been stolen from his own livestream.
Still, it is possible for a TABC agent to disguise himself as a reporter to enter, he said.
The TABC’s Facebook video drew its fair share of criticism.
“All of this proved that everyone was following the whole covid 19 [sic] protocol and is perfectly capable of being open for business in a secure manner. Good job, ”one user commented on the post.
Another echoed this sentiment.
“Looks like everyone was social distancing themselves well,” they wrote.
Polone said several of his constitutional rights, such as his right to assemble peacefully, have been violated by the TABC and Governor Greg Abbott. In addition, he said the government violated his right to fair compensation as he requisitioned his private property without pay.
Abbott’s office did not return a request for comment.
If the state government was really concerned about preventing the spread of the coronavirus, Polone said, then it would have closed every protest in bars on Saturday.
“Obviously, it’s not about public safety anymore,” he said. “It’s something deeper than that.”
Polone believes Abbott is unfairly targeting free-standing bars in Texas. The fact that they are unable to function in any way is unfair, he said.
As long as he has his liquor license, Polone said it was illegal for him to operate inside his building, even though there was no alcohol sold.
At this point, Polone added, he would do better if his license was revoked. Then he could at least organize events, such as guitar lessons and church sessions, he said.
“That’s why we’re fighting so hard against this thing,” Polone said. “It’s not that we want to sell alcohol. We just want to be able to do the things on our property that I paid for.
Last month, Polone joined the Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance to seek a temporary injunction against Abbott in federal court. Although the case is pending, the TRO was dismissed last week after the court ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing against it.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit against the governor by several other club owners has stalled, said plaintiff Brandon Hays, owner of Dallas bars The Whippersnapper, Tiny Victories and High Fives.
A temporary injunction hearing was scheduled for Monday, but Hays said it was postponed after the state appealed the decision of a district judge who granted the plaintiffs jurisdiction to sue Abbott.
Hays said it stays the case, meaning it cannot continue until an appeals judge delivers a favorable verdict. He is optimistic about his prospects.
“We are confident that we will get the same result in the appeals court as we did in the district court,” Hays said.
Still, Hays fears that the plaintiffs will soon run out of money to continue the lawsuit. Since none of its bars are open, it becomes increasingly difficult to meet business expenses, let alone legal fees.
At the same time, his bars don’t generate income, Hays said he needs to answer calls from homeowners, sellers and lenders.
“My livelihood has been completely cut off,” he said. “I am running out of options and desperation is starting to set in.”
More than anything, Hays has said he wants Abbott to at least strike up a conversation with bar owners across the state. It would be great if he offered relief or came up with a tangible reopening plan, Hays said, but it’s radio silence so far.
Hays said he was frustrated the state government was ignoring hundreds of thousands of bar workers who lost their jobs due to Abbott’s executive order. Although he did not attend Freedom Fest, he said he understands why so many bar owners felt compelled to do so.
“I feel like I’m sitting here watching my career erode,” Hays said. “It’s slowly, painfully, and time consuming, and it feels like there is nothing we can do.”
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