It was the camaraderie and social interaction Seguin resident Alicia Chavez missed that convinced her to make sure she left work Thursday a tad earlier than normal.
“I took off work. I scheduled to get off at 2:45 p.m.,” said Chavez, explaining how she was able to get to Varsity Inn to enjoy an adult beverage shortly after the bar opened its doors on Thursday. The establishment, like so many other bars and similar businesses in Texas, were ordered closed by the Texas governor for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Following a nearly seven-month hiatus, Varsity Inn in Seguin threw open its saloon doors Thursday following state and county officials’ recent decisions to allow bars to start operating again.
“We thought it was going to happen a lot sooner,” said Celeste Schwarzlose, Varsity Inn manager/head bartender. “None of us expected it to drag on this long.”
Guadalupe County received approval on Wednesday from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for bars shut down in the county due to COVID-19 to reopen.
Owners/operators of local establishments, like Varsity Inn, who wish to begin welcoming guests again must fill out and submit a form to county officials, said Patrick Pinder, Guadalupe County emergency management coordinator and fire marshal.
Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order allowing county judges to make the decision to opt in and allow bars to reopen, and Guadalupe County Judge Kyle Kutscher did just that after talking with local officials and law enforcement.
In conjunction with making the decision to move forward with reopening, Kutscher had to send a form to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and receive approval.
“We have received the notification from TABC, and bars are allowed to open,” Pinder said.
As of Friday, the county issued about 25 permits to local establishments that submitted the form, he said. Most of the permits issued as of Friday afternoon were for establishments in Seguin and unincorporated areas of the county, Pinder said.
“The purpose of the form is to give us all the contact information for the bar, the manager on duty, and it allows us to send them an open-safe permit that shows they’ve met the requirements of the county,” he said. “No matter if they’re in a city or in the county, they have to go online and fill out that form because if anything changes with the TABC and governor’s rules, this allows us to notify them immediately.”
The county’s emergency management office staff continues to inform bar owners about the situation, Pinder said.
People wishing to access the necessary form can find it online at bit.ly/3j0Z6zP .
The form — which may be filled out and submitted online — asks for the usual identifying information including name of applicant, name of business and ways to contact both. It also questions whether the business will sell food, enforce the Open Texas order and more.
Abbott shuttered Texas bars and similar businesses in the summer to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. He issued the order Oct. 7 allowing the businesses to reopen in areas with low hospitalizations and other COVID-related statistics, but only if the county judge in each such area opted in to the reopening.
Abbott’s order also stipulated that strict safety measures be followed in the counties that opted in. The order and guidelines led Kutscher to meet with city leaders, business people, law enforcement personnel and more to help him decide what is best for Guadalupe County, the judge has said.
He announced at a regular Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday that he decided opting in was the way for Guadalupe County to go. He said the key to making it work is on the shoulders of those running the establishments and their visitors.
“We need to prove a point in that respect,” Kutscher said during the court meeting. “The county is willing to do whatever it has to do to support those businesses.”
After completing months of renovations and then waiting for the go-ahead to begin serving guests again, staff members Varsity Inn were anxious for Thursday’s reopening, Schwarzlose said. They expected their regulars to make a quick return after the company built up considerable hype around the reopening, she said.
Varsity Inn hopes its patrons return in droves and keep safety in mind while enjoying themselves at the bar, Schwarzlose said. Staff will help make sure it all goes smoothly.
“We’re going to do our best to keep everyone following those rules,” she said. “We want to be open forever. We don’t want to give anybody a reason to shut us back down.
“We’re happy to comply with whatever they ask us.”