While most Texans are focused on celebrating the holiday season, a group of struggling small-business owners known as “51-percenters” is continuing the fight to safely reopen under government-ordered coronavirus shutdowns.

The Rail Club Live, a live music venue in Fort Worth, is one of several small bars and clubs that are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to prevent the state from enforcing executive orders they say unconstitutionally close “51-percent” bars but leave others open.

The 51-percenters—business owners who hold a permit from the TABC and receive more than 51 percent of their revenue from alcohol sales—have been among the hardest hit by Abbott’s unilateral orders that declare which businesses are “essential” and can remain open.

The Rail Club Live owner, Chris Polone, announced today that following a hearing last week, a Travis County district court has ruled it did not have jurisdiction to decide the bar owners’ case.

“Of course, I was discouraged today to hear the news of having to take this fight to the next level, because each day that goes by, we have to fight harder to pay our overhead and provide for our families,” Polone said. “We just have to wait longer.”

“We will win,” he added.

Polone said the 51-percenters plan to appeal, but they aren’t relying just on legal action to win their argument.

“Activism works a lot faster than the legal process,” Polone said following last week’s court hearing.

To that end, Polone co-founded the group Children of Liberty to organize and unite the 51-percenters in a movement to fight Abbott’s arbitrary coronavirus shutdowns and TABC’s unfair enforcement, as well as collaborate on solutions to safely reopen their businesses.

The Children of Liberty aren’t taking the holidays off, either. They’re holding a statewide protest of every TABC office in Texas, starting at 11:00 a.m. on December 31—New Year’s Eve, which Polone says is the busiest day of the year for the agency.

“This is uncharted territory,” Polone said, adding their challenge is educating courts and the public about the industry and the difference between 51-percenters and other bars. “We’re not the problem.”

He said the 51-percenters are being treated like criminals.

“We’ve gone above and beyond CDC guidelines, above and beyond State of Texas health mandates,” Polone said. “The State of Texas’ argument is that we’re hurting people. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth … the one being hurt by this is the bar owner, their staff, their children.”

“I’m not breaking any laws,” he added. “I’m standing up to an unjust executive order that is starving out everyone that I care about, taking food out of the mouths of my children, and my staff, and their children.”

“Do not let people shame you or guilt you into losing your business,” he advised fellow 51-percenters, offering support from Children of Liberty. “The best way to beat this thing is to open up your business.”

Polone acknowledged the fight isn’t easy, given what 51-percenters and other small-business owners are up against:

“This is persecution … systematically destroying entrepreneurs and small-business owners, systematically destroying the American dream, [which is] being able to become the greatest version of yourself. That’s what made this country so great.”

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.