Texas' Anti-Climactic Reopening: Malls & Restaurants Empty, Beaches & Parks Packed

As predicted, even when the economy finally opens back up across the US, the severe hit which has already seen a number of major retailers file for bankruptcy - with Nieman Marcus being the latest Thursday, it won't mark the end of the financial pain. 

Take Texas, an early state to rapidly east pandemic restrictions and hoped for test case in terms of seeing its economy roar back to life: as of last Friday during a 'phase 1' reopening malls, department stores, restaurants, and even movie theaters were able to finally open their doors (these are all allowed 25% of capacity seating per phase 1 restrictions). 

And yet, as Reuters details while visiting the major metropolitan Domain mall in Austin, Texas, customers are still staying home, hardly to be seen

File image via Getty

The situation appears bleak, and is a strong negative indicator for the entire country's 'reopening' and economic recovery prospects

A dozen or so people were strolling about the sprawling open-air shopping center Monday afternoon, with three seated on the patio of a Tex-Mex restaurant. Only one shopper wore a mask, and the loudest noises were from songbirds perched in the live oak trees along the deserted pedestrian thoroughfares.

“I’ve seen one customer today - they didn’t buy anything,” said Taylor Jund, who was keeping watch over an empty Chaser clothing store. “There’s absolutely no one coming around here.”

Restaurants have been allowed to reopen but only allowing for 25% capacity inside dining, with many also removing many tables and chairs to create natural social distancing in their seating and floor plans. 

“It’s sad to know that this is the first Monday we’ve reopened, and a lot of the places are still very empty,” one food distribution company official that supplies Houston area restaurants said of the painfully slow, anti-climactic return to business. “I’m a little shocked it’s so dead out.”

There are venues which have witnessed an explosion of returned 'normal' activity, however — beaches, public and state parks, lakes, rivers and nature areas.

Crowds flock to Galveston Beach on May 2 in Galveston, Texas, AFP via Getty.

These are places where social distancing can be more easily practiced, without the dystopian-feeling scene of Plexiglas barriers separating one from a fellow diner sitting at a restaurant bar. 

The state's phase 2 opening is expected for May 18, however as Governor Greg Abbot said, "We need to see two weeks of data to confirm no flare-up of COVID-19," which will determine whether it goes forward as planned. 

Austin's Domain Mall this week, via Reuters.

Meanwhile, phase 2 reopening looks optimistic regardless

Texas Governor Greg Abbott modified his COVID-19 executive orders on Thursday, effectively setting free a woman jailed for refusing to close her business. Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther is serving a seven-day jail sentence for violating statewide stay-at-home orders. She reopened her business nearly two weeks ago and publicly tore up a cease-and-desist letter ordering her to close.

Abbott modified his orders to eliminate confinement as a punishment, and specifically named Luther in his announcement. The modifications are being applied retroactively to April 2, according to a press release from his office.

With such legal repercussions for reopening now greatly softened in Texas, the rush will be on, but will customers and clients actually return?