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Texas Business Owners Grapple With Loosening Coronavirus Restrictions

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Across Texas, business owners are grappling with hard decisions now that Governor Greg Abbott has lifted coronavirus restrictions and ended the statewide mask mandate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: Because Texans have mastered the safe strategies, they don't need an order from Austin, Texas, telling them what to do. They know the right thing to do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says coronavirus cases are continuing to rise in the United States, and there are, quote, "troubling signs." And according to NPR's vaccination tracker, the percentage of the Texas population that's fully vaccinated is one of the lowest in the country - under 8%. Judy Neal is the owner of Valentino's Beauty Supply in Fort Worth, Texas, and she joins us now to talk about some of the things that small businesses are facing.

Welcome to the program.

JUDY NEAL: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you feel about Governor Abbott lifting restrictions?

NEAL: I think it's irresponsible. I think it lacks integrity, and it's incomplete - no logistics, no concern and no awareness of how this is really impacting the average Joe, the day-to-day person like myself who has had family members to die and a ton of friends. He says, you know, 100% capacity to your stores and facilities - you know, just go about business as usual. But we are trying to survive here. And here we go again with this kind of action that literally says, figure it out and do it on your own, but I'm going to give you that right. That's not helpful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. What will your store do now since you have to decide, it is up to you? Will you forego restrictions and masks?

NEAL: Absolutely not. We will be taking temps. We will have masks and sanitizers at the front door and gloves and the whole bit for our customers. And most of them - I haven't had any to not appreciate how we're responding. I have a salon tied to my store. Some days, my stylists look like hazmat workers. I'm not going to worry about the people who don't want to come in and deal with the policy of being protected and being responsible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's an interesting issue because on the one hand, you seem to be saying customers are afraid of catching the coronavirus; we're still in the midst of this pandemic. And then on the other hand, others might be angry at having to wear a mask now that the governor is saying it's up to the individual to decide what they're going to do. I mean, how does a business handle that?

NEAL: You end up pulling out all of your facilitation skills, your negotiating skills, your communication skills. You have to reason with people where you're standing, remind them of the integrity you've had and operated for 10 years. I mean, your whole way of a person in business becomes questioned or has to be defended. And that's where I say that Governor Abbott's premature decision cast us into a horrible position to have to be divisive, to have to confront. What kind of dialogue will I have to have at the front door now?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is that conversation going to look like?

NEAL: I'm getting larger signs today that said we still require masks. We're going to expect people to walk in, and we'll be right there at the front. Welcome to Valentino's. Please, can you sanitize there? Oh, you lost your mask? We've got a mask right here for you. You don't want to - oh, sir, I'm so sorry. It would've been nice to serve you today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're hurting financially. To turn people away, it's got to be tough.

NEAL: We've been hit hard. Customer numbers have decreased. And I was closed from March 21 to June 16. But I'm just depending that there'll be enough people like me, likeminded, that don't want to stop by the hospital and be in ICUs and go through all of that and play this Russian roulette kind of thing with their lives in a state that had had 40,000 of the 500-plus thousand people who have died. If that's the group that thinks like that, then I don't need their money. At least we live to spend the money we make.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Judy Neal, owner of Valentino's Beauty Supply in Fort Worth, Texas.

Thank you very much.

NEAL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.