Shelley Meyer, owner of the iconic Wild About Music shop in downtown Austin, was finally able to sell band T-shirts, music posters, and other music-themed gifts today for the first time in nearly a month.
Along with other shops defined as nonessential, Wild About Music has been effectively closed since a March executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott, but as of a new executive order issued last Friday, can now conduct business on a to-go basis.
"It has to get better," said Meyer, who also owns Toy Joy, Yummy Joy and Austin Rocks. "The more public it becomes that we're open, it won't just be us trying to tell the world. It'll be more of an expectation."
High fashion, novelty gifts, art, furniture—for weeks, merchants like these have been relegated to selling on national online marketplaces or simply waiting it out with no income.
Abbott's order impacted more than 90% of small businesses across the nation, said Dixie Patrick, president of the Austin Independent Business Association. The group represents about 1,000 independent businesses, about half of which are retail, she said.
Even businesses that the order defined as essential felt the burn. Business is down 70% at Precision Camera, which supplies audio/video equipment to news media and churches, said General Manager Gregg Burger. Customers who weren't regulars assumed that they were closed.
"Everyone will know to call us now," Burger said.
One challenge is to make sure businesses have access to the required hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, Patrick said.
Another is that some smaller retailers have never been online before, she said, and now that customers can't browse indoors, it's much more important to the store's success.
"There is a subset of people who are really starting from scratch," she said.
At Wild About Music, Meyer and her crew have been moving a couple of guitars a week through reverb.com, a national online music store, but they are still at their highest annual inventory levels every February, when they stock for SXSW, which was canceled.
Their experiments with online sales were a bust in the past because there was too much competition with national online retailers, said Meyers.
Now they've revived their web store and consolidated all their shops' curbside and phone business at their Toy Joy/Yummy Joy location on Airport Boulevard to cut costs.
They also let customers browse their music store through Zoom or FaceTime by appointment—the closest they can get to in-person sales.
Hopefully, she said, it'll be enough for now. While she may be one of the city's larger local retailers, she also has a lot on the line.
"We've got a barrel of stuff and are in a barrel of hurt over this," Meyer said.
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Sponsored by Tito's Handmade Vodka
Tito's Handmade Vodka will provide 21,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to Austinites (Austonians?) for free on July 2 via contactless pickup.
"Due to the recent spike in cases of COVID-19 in Texas, we wanted to make our hand sanitizer more widely available to the local community," said Taylor Berry, VP of Brand Marketing at Tito's Handmade Vodka. "We're starting in our hometown of Austin, with plans to expand to additional Texas cities in need."
- Where: Krieg Softball Complex parking lot, 222 S. Pleasant Valley Road.
- When: Thursday, July 2, 12-6 p.m. or while supplies last.
- Details: All passengers must wear masks; limit three bottles per car.
- More: Tito's For Austin
Since beginning production in late March, Tito's has donated hand sanitizer to critical frontline workers at over 500 organizations in Central Texas, and to 25 states and counting across the United States. Due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Austin, Tito's Handmade Vodka is shifting its hand sanitizer distribution strategy to make it available to the public for free.
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There is at least one holiday weekend event that hasn't yet been canceled: the Emerald Point Bar & Grill on Lake Travis still plans to have the 90s rapper Vanilla Ice perform on Friday night.
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Austin health officials ask residents to stay home for July 4th as field hospital prep gets underway
Heading into the Fourth of July weekend, Austin health officials begged residents to stay away from each other to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
"You really must stay home right now," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said during a media call Wednesday.
A second shutdown<p>Dr. Escott provided a threshold for when he will recommend that Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe issue new stay-home orders.</p><p>"If [the seven-day moving average for new hospital admissions] surpasses 70, then I will make that recommendation," he said.</p><p>Right now, the moving average is 55, according to the county's COVID-19 dashboard. Yesterday, 67 patients were admitted to area hospitals with COVID-19. Dr. Escott said that he may make the recommendation sooner, especially if surrounding jurisdictions seem poised to exceed their hospital capacity—which would likely cause spillover into Travis County facilities.</p><p>"I'm concerned about our neighbors in San Antonio and Bexar County, who are reporting more than 1,000 cases a day right now," he said.</p>
Flattening the curve<p>As of yesterday, Austin's three hospital systems—Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's HealthCare—reported that 72% of their collective 2,470 staffed hospital beds are occupied and 80% of their 483 ICU beds are.<br></p><p>Dr. Escott is less concerned about hospital capacity—which he said is normally within the 85% to 95% range—than he is with the increasing rate at which new cases are being reported in Austin and elsewhere.</p><p>"We cannot afford to have major fires burning in all of our major cities [in Texas] and expect to be able to provide hospital beds to everyone who gets sick if we don't make serious changes right now," he said.</p><p>To this end, Dr. Escott asked Austinites to stay home when possible and to be vigilant about masking, social distancing and hygiene when not. </p><p>"We cannot afford missteps right now," he said. "Not this weekend." </p>
Convention center prep<p>In response, Dr. Escott has issued a request for federal funding to build out an alternate care site. Although the city has not officially announced its location, local officials have said it will be hosted at the Austin Convention Center.</p><p>"It will take several weeks for us to build it up in such a way to start taking patients," Dr. Escott said, adding that it will be outfitted in installments to match the demand for care. </p><p>The total capacity of the site, as detailed in the city's surge plan, is around 1,500 low-acuity patients.</p><p>If staffing the alternative care site, or area hospitals, becomes an issue, Dr. Escott said he has received confirmation from the White House that it will provide additional medical personnel through the U.S. military.</p>
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