McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The moment that many retailers and South Texas border residents have been waiting over a month ago for will come Friday when many businesses reopen their doors — sort of — since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Retailers in Hidalgo, and Starr and Cameron counties will be allowed to sell products curbside only, and with very strict social-distancing guidelines as set by Gov. Greg Abbott’s office. The governor last Friday announced executive orders allowing some businesses to start meeting, covered-face to covered-face, with customers again.
In McAllen and Starr County, businesses will be required to sign and post documents showing they comply with guidelines. This includes customers and employees wearing face coverings, staying 6 feet apart, making as many contacts by appointments, and limiting large social gatherings in parking lots.
McAllen businesses must post and sign the city’s “Safe Business Phase I Re-Opening Commitment.” In Starr County, they are required to sign and post the “Safe Business Retail-to-Go Phase I Notice and Reopening Commitment.”
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said in a video post that the city’s Code Enforcement “will go around making sure that it’s posted.”
“This doesn’t mean we can’t still be careful. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to still be watchful of others. We still have to be respectful and careful of each other, but there’s new things happening,” Darling said.
“All we’re trying to do is open up businesses a little bit at a time, as the governor has instructed us to do,” Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said Thursday on Facebook Live.
“In order for this Retail-to-Go plan to work, people must keep in mind all the other initiatives are still in place,” added Rose Benavidez, president of the Starr County Industrial Foundation.
Benavidez said that her nonprofit organization will be offering free marketing assistance and tips to businesses during this COVID-19 crisis. “Standard business practices have been thrown out the window,” Benavidez said. “This is a new frontier.”
Economic losses from the prolonged closures statewide are likening this to the Great Depression and show “massive structural problems in the economy,” a recent report by The Perryman Group projecting the economic outlook through 2021 found. It also comes as Texas struggles with “turmoil in energy markets,” the report said.
The report did find, however, that of all the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) in the state, the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area is projected to have the lowest wage and salary employment losses in the state. The Perryman Group predicts the McAllen area will suffer a 4.54% loss, which is lower than the 5.3% projected for the El Paso area, and nearly 7% losses projected for both the Houston-Woodlands-Sugarland area, and Fort Worth-Arlington-Grapevine area.
However, Darling told Border Report he isn’t celebrating.
“If you look at the actual data, retail trade and hotel restaurants are hit the hardest in our area regarding job losses. While that is a significant segment of our economy, it also indicates our lack of overall diversification of our economy. So while the overall job loss in our MSA looks less impacted than others in the state based on sheer numbers, it isn’t necessarily a positive when you look at the overall employment picture in terms of diversification,” he said.
Re-opening in whatever form is welcome news to merchants and business owners in McAllen and throughout South Texas, where most storefronts now have “closed” signs and many businesses are listed for rent or sale.
Zulema Zepeda has owned Fabulous Faces Beauty Salon on N. 10th Street, the city’s main drag, for 25 years. Her doors have been closed since March 18, and she said she was unable to secure a small business loan under the CARES Act funds, which ran out two weeks after being offered.
“I couldn’t get anything because the big businesses took all the money and we didn’t get anything,” Zepeda said via phone Thursday. Her husband also owns his own drafting business where he designs homes and offices and has also been out of work for the past month, she said.
Luckily, she has no other staff and hasn’t had to lay off anyone. She not paying herself, either, and must figure out how to pay rent, the electric and Internet and phone bill without any customers.
“I feel very bad because there are a lot of hair dressers working in places with multiple employees and they are all out of work,” Zepeda said.
Zepeda will have to wait a bit longer as beauty salons will not be re-opening on Friday, but she said seeing some retailers open will give her hope that her little two-chair shop with the bright red door will soon have clients once again.
La Plaza Mall in McAllen also will not be reopening, just yet, Darling told Border Report on Thursday. This mall has for years been No. 1 in revenue per square foot of any mall in the United States. It often attracts Mexican shoppers who come with giant suitcases that they stuff as many families make it a daylong shopping affair. There are lines to get a parking space and the parking lot is often filled with vehicles with Mexican license plates from states that are hours away.
But if Phase I goes well, and coronavirus cases remain steady in Hidalgo County, Darling said he is hopeful that additional business openings will follow.
“How well we do on Phase 1 will determine when we get to Phase 2 and 3,” Darling said in the video.
Hidalgo County on Wednesday announced its fourth death from COVID-19 and updated the total number of cases to 281.
Cameron County is re-opening for curb-side retailers despite five more deaths reported since Wednesday at two nursing homes in the town of Harlingen, bringing the county’s total to 14 with 344 cases.
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