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Bar patrons in Burleson protest shutdown, saying they’re being ‘bullied by our governor’

A group of regulars gathered Sunday afternoon in an attempt to get Gov. Greg Abbott's attention.

Customers of a bar in Burleson named Cooter Brown’s protested Sunday afternoon after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered bars to shut down two days prior.

Customers couldn’t drink beer inside like usual, but owner Tara Worley invited them over for water and Cokes as they held signs intended to show Abbott how the shutdown is hurting small business owners. Protesters wore face masks and held signs with sayings that included “Why only us? Bar lives matter” and “Bless your heart #GovAbbott.”

Worley says the bar is “completely upside-down” after being closed for two months. She was able to slide her rent forward during the first shutdown, but Worley was asked to pay when Cooter Brown’s reopened three weeks ago.

“I’m still behind two months in rent,” she says.

Rodney Worley held a sign that says "Why only us? Bar lives matter" at a protest at Cooter Brown's on June 28, 2020. His wife, Tara Worley, owns the Burleson bar and helped organize a protest after Gov. Greg Abbott shut down bars in late June to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Rodney Worley held a sign that says "Why only us? Bar lives matter" at a protest at Cooter Brown's on June 28, 2020. His wife, Tara Worley, owns the Burleson bar and helped organize a protest after Gov. Greg Abbott shut down bars in late June to curb the spread of COVID-19.((C)Ashley Rutland Photography)

Over the weekend, Worley used Facebook to invite customers to a peaceful protest on Sunday afternoon. “We have no choice but to send our governor a message that singling out bars isn’t going to save the world,” one post reads. Another post says, “Please come and show your support for not only us, but for all small business (mainly bars right now) that are being bullied by the governor and not being given a chance to survive. If you can’t make it in person, please take a minute to say a prayer or send us some good vibes.”

Abbott’s order required bars with more than 51% of their gross receipts from alcohol sales to shut down. It also slid back restaurant occupancy from 75% to 50%, forced the closure of river-rafting operations and limited large gatherings.

One bar owner at Dallas’ Double Wide dive bar called the measure “unbelievable.” The owner of mezcaleria Las Almas Rotas called it “a death sentence.”

The measures were taken to try to limit Texans’ exposure to the coronavirus, with the belief that customers who sit close to one another at bars might be contributing to the spread of COVID-19. Dallas County set a new daily record, with 570 cases reported on Sunday.

Cooter Brown’s is in Johnson County, which has seen just over 370 reported cases — a significantly smaller number than Dallas County’s 20,000 COVID-19 cases.

Cooter Brown’s has been open for about 30 years and has been owned by Worley for 10 years. She explains it as “a home bar: It’s everybody’s home base in Burleson.”

The bar doesn’t have a kitchen, so it can’t sell takeout food during the shutdowns. “We are literally making zero income,” Worley says.

A waiver from the governor now allows businesses to sell mixed drinks to go. Businesses must have a mixed beverage permit and “permanent food service capabilities on the premise” to participate, says a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission news release. Cooter Brown’s does not meet those requirements.

In the protest, Worley says she wants her voice heard, and she wants the governor to reverse the order and allow bars to reopen, even at a smaller capacity.

“The message I want to send is I’m important, too,” she says. “Feeding my children is important, and this is how I do it.”

Health officials side with the closure, saying that COVID-19 is most commonly spread through respiratory droplets transferred from person to person within 6 feet of one another for at least 15 minutes. In Dallas County, health director Dr. Philip Huang says the risk level remains severe. “We’re still in the red zone: Stay home, stay safe,” he says.

Worley says she wants customers to come back in, even as COVID-19 numbers surge in other counties.

“If they feel unsafe, they should stay at home,” Worley says.

For more food news, follow Sarah Blaskovich on Twitter at @sblaskovich.

Sarah Blaskovich, food writer. Sarah writes about restaurants, bars and culture in Dallas. She also appears on NBC5 twice a week. Follow @sblaskovich and ask her what to do, where to eat or where to drink in your 'hood.

sblaskovich@dallasnews.com /sarah.blaskovich @sblaskovich Instagram Icon@sarahblaskovich
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