Throughout the disaster caused by Hurricane Harvey, Mayor Sylvester Turner has earned praise from Houstonians for his handling of the crisis. From the decision not to issue a general call for evacuation to acting quickly to use the George R. Brown Convention Center as a shelter, Turner’s actions have generally served as an example of how government can ease the burden during times of trouble.
Still, Houston’s restaurant community has begun to express its displeasure at the citywide curfew that Mayor Turner issued Wednesday. Designed to curb looting, the curfew mandates that people be off the streets between midnight and 5 am. (Update 9/5: The curfew has been lifted except for the evacuation zone in West Houston.)
Although the order specifically exempts people who work late hours, it applies to customers. Bar and restaurant owners say it hurts their employees, who rely on customers patronizing businesses all the way until 2 am to spend money.
Towards that end, Dirt Bar owner Shaun Sharma drafted a petition that he posted at change.org to urge Turner to revise the curfew to exempt nighttime businesses. In the document, which has garnered almost 1,500 signatures, he notes that the city generally left bars alone during the curfew after Hurricane Ike and requests that law enforcement allow businesses to operate past midnight.
Sharma says he’s seen full bars forced to issue last call at 11 pm in order to allow customers enough time to get home before the curfew begins. Agricole Hospitality partner Morgan Weber made a similar argument in a widely circulated Instagram post.
“I want to be clear that I think they’re doing a great job. How do we raise a flag to call attention to the idea that this small change could help people make (more money),” Sharma tells CultureMap. “A lot of people in the service industry don’t even live paycheck to paycheck. They live cash rich to cash poor. If they don’t work for a few days, they can’t pay their bills.”
The problem has been exacerbated by Harvey’s timing. As it is now the first of the month, rent is due. Bar and restaurant employees who didn’t budget for an unexpected week off may find themselves without the necessary funds to pay their landlords.
Greater Houston Restaurant Association president Jonathan Horowitz tells CultureMap that the organization has raised these concerns with the city. While the government is sympathetic to the problem and wants to help people return to normal life as quickly as possible, the curfew will remain in effect for the time being to help preserve law and order. Horowitz supplied the following statement with the GHRA’s position on the matter.
We support getting restaurants and bars in Houston up and running normally as quickly as possible, as well as the efforts of the Mayor and all first responders to keep us safe. The midnight to 5 a.m. curfew allows bars and restaurants to remain open well into the night as our employees are exempted from the curfew, provided they are coming to or from work. This gives restaurants and bars time to close up for the night and allows employees to travel after midnight or come in before 5 a.m. to open for early business. While patrons currently still need to abide by the curfew and be home by midnight, we feel this strikes an appropriate balance between the desire to operate normally and the need to maintain the safety of all Houstonians.