Local businesses respond to the impact of COVID-19


An online order pick-up sign hangs above the barista bar Thursday, March 19, 2020 at Mochas & Javas' N LBJ Drive location. All Mochas & Javas locations are open for to-go and curbside pickup services. Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Mochas & Javas

Brianna Benitez

Just a few weeks ago, it was business as usual for San Marcos. Local coffee shops were filled with students studying for midterms while restaurants and cafes brimmed with conversations and liveliness. Now, as the whole world shelters in self-isolation, small business owners are facing a new reality as they learn to navigate their establishment amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

To alleviate the spread of coronavirus in the area, Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra issued a “stay at home, work safe” order. The order was effective Thursday, March 16 at 11 p.m. and will continue through April 10. All Hays County residents are ordered to stay home with exception to those performing an essential task. Essential tasks include necessary travel and the operation of essential businesses such as healthcare facilities, grocery stores and food services.

Located steps away from The Square sits Stellar Coffee Co., a coffee shop usually bustling with business and energy. Now the establishment faces an unexpected phenomenon as customer turnout is the lowest the staff has ever seen.

Stellar Coffee announced Monday, March 23 on Instagram that it would shut its doors until further notice. In their caption, the coffee shop said the decision to close stemmed from wanting their customers to stay safe in their own homes.

Up until the coffee shops’ closure, to-go, pick-up and curbside services were offered. Madison Myrick, Stellar Coffee general manager, said all inside seating had been temporarily shut down.

As customer turnout continued to decline, Myrick said she decided to cut labor and staff in half. Instead of two to four individuals working a shift at a time, only one staff member would work.

Myrick said overall sales decreased up to 80%. On a normal day, Myrick said Stellar Coffee would serve around 200 customers, but in the few days before the shop’s closure, only about 20 customers were coming in.

“People are just not going out which is valid and I understand that,” Myrick said. “I think the concept of going to get coffee isn’t a necessity right now.”

Unlike franchise and chain corporations, Myrick said local businesses are not backed up with money to help them in times like these. She said Stellar Coffee Co. and other small businesses rely on the support of the community to pay their bills.

“When the community isn’t really able to come out and support in the way that they normally would, local business takes a hit,” Myrick said. “Big corporations they’ll bounce back, they’ll be fine, they’ll take a hit but it definitely won’t be the magnitude of hit that some of these local businesses will have.”

Despite the eerie ambiance lingering throughout the shop, Myrick said she and her staff remain hopeful. She said individuals can continue to support Stellar Coffee and other local businesses by purchasing e-gift cards and shop merchandise.

“Try to shop local as much as you can right now,” Myrick said. “You’ll never know that you going in and purchasing a coffee is helping keep someone afloat.”

Mochas & Javas, a small franchise coffee shop, has four locations in San Marcos. Grace Mills, Mochas & Javas marketing director, said the coffee shop has been following the health and safety recommendations presented by the government, local officials and health professionals.

“In times like these, many of us are very aware that spending has slowed down, that patronage has slowed down,” Mills said. “It’s going to be very important at this time that we continue to keep our local businesses supported.”

Mills said the community can support Mochas & Javas and other businesses by purchasing gift cards as well as calling in pick up orders.

Despite the outbreak, Mills said business has been pretty similar in comparison to past spring break weeks. However, as the extension of spring break continues and classes start online, Mills said she anticipates that business will decline.

All Mochas & Javas locations are still open for business. Updated hours for all locations can be found @mochasandjavas on Instagram.

In accordance with the guidelines presented by the CDC and President Trump, Governor Abbott issued an executive order on Thursday, March 19 prohibiting dining-in at bars, restaurants and food courts. Despite offering to-go, delivery and pick-up orders, local restaurants have experienced a decline in sales.

Within a week, Palmer’s Restaurant, Bar and Courtyard experienced a heavy decline in customer turnout. On Saturday, March 21 Palmer’s announced the temporary closure of the restaurant via Instagram.

Palmer’s owner and manager Monte Sheffield said the combination of low customer turnout and not wanting customers and staff to encourage the spread of the coronavirus, influenced his decision to close the restaurant.

Sheffield said the establishment saw a 40% decrease in sales on Friday, March 13. He said all-day sales for Saturday, March 14 and brunch on Sunday, March 15 experienced a decline of 40% as well.

In addition to dine-in services, Palmer’s hosts private events. Sheffield said he anticipates event cancelations with the rescheduling of the university’s commencement ceremonies. However, Sheffield said Palmer’s receives the majority of their revenue from their restaurant space while private events make up 15-20% of their earnings.

Palmer’s has been a local business in the community since 1978. Sheffield said this is the first time in history the business has closed its doors. He said he will miss seeing and serving his loyal customers the most.

“Being in business since 1978, we got a foundation of patrons that’s so deep,” Sheffield said. “We love serving. It’s an art form and right now we don’t have a pallet to paint on.”

Despite feeling sad and frustrated, Sheffield said this will be an enlightening time for the restaurant. He said he has been wanting to create a new menu and will take this time to develop new recipes.

“When we’re up and running again, we’ll open up with a new menu and make some margaritas and make some people happy,” Sheffield said.

Through the use of technology and the internet, other businesses have found additional ways to serve their customers. Twin River Tarot, an in-house tarot card reading service, announced through social media that they will only offer online readings due to the outbreak. This announcement was posted on Instagram Saturday, March 14 just weeks after the business’s launch day on Feb. 25

Parker Dumas, international studies sophomore, is a reader at Twin River Tarot. He said online readings will take place through video chat or phone call. Dumas said he will be able to show customers what card they pull through the online card service, Shadowscapes Tarot. When a card is pulled, Dumas said a link or photo of the selected card will be sent or shown to the customer during the reading.

Dumas said he and his partner came to the decision to stall in-person readings in order to protect the safety of their customers. By being transparent with their customer base, Dumas said they hope to relieve any uncertainty or stress their customers might have.

“By providing our customer base with a solid answer to how we are going to follow the next couple weeks with conducting, we’re hoping it will give our customer base some peace of mind,” Dumas said.

Since the outbreak began, Dumas said Twin River Tarot has experienced a decline in reading scheduling.

“A lot of people are feeling the fear and the panic and they’re not reaching out to the community around them,” Dumas said. “They’re closing off so it’s been hard to reach out to other people.”

With the university’s decision to expand remote learning, Dumas said he anticipates business will continue to decline. Since students make up a decent amount of their customer base, Dumas said is important for the university to be open in order for readings to be scheduled.

“Both of us are students so we tend to network a lot when we’re on campus,” Dumas said. “Without the school being active, we have kinda predicted that it is going to affect our business since we won’t be able to promote in-person as much.”

To schedule a reading with Twin River Tarot, Dumas said individuals can send them a message @twinrivertarot on Instagram or email them at [email protected]

Even yoga studios in the area have used the power of the internet to serve and connect with their customers during this time. Red Dawg Hot Yoga announced Monday, March 16 via Instagram that they have decided to temporarily close their studio and offer online classes through Zoom.

Ashley Spradlin is a teacher at Red Dawg Hot Yoga and said the studio is now live-streaming classes for their members and for anyone wanting to practice. Spradlin said Red Dawg Hot Yoga is in the process of uploading free videos to its YouTube channel.

Spradlin said before the decision to close the studio, the number of individuals coming into class decreased by half.

“Class sizes started to drop as people started to figure out how they could stay healthy and keep their families safe,” Spradlin said. “We decided that we still want to support one another but it was better to stay distant at this time.”

To sign up for an online class, Spradlin said individuals can visit their website. Classes are free to members and are seven dollars for non-members. She said those interested in taking a class need to sign up 30 minutes before class starts. Once registration for the class expires, the teacher will email everyone on the class roster a link to join the class once it begins.

Spradlin said the Red Dawg Hot Yoga community has been supportive of the implementation of online classes and is understanding that the studio is a small business wanting to support their community.

“They appreciate that we’re trying to make an effort and still serve them even though they can’t come into the studio right now,” Spradlin said. “Red Dawg is a home for a lot of people. Our teachers are invested in the community and our students, some of them have been practicing with us since the day that we opened.”

With the temporary closing of the studio, Spradlin said she misses seeing the usual faces that regularly come into the studio. She said the studio has become a home away from home for many members and teachers.

“It feels like a family when everyone is here together,” Spradlin said. “The miracle of the internet makes it easy for us to stay connected so I miss seeing everyone’s face but I know things will return to normal and we’ll all be back in here sweating together.”

Amidst the circumstances, local businesses and customers are finding a way to support and serve one another through these difficult times. For more information on how to support a local business reach out to them on social media or give them a call.

The University Star’s continuing COVID-19 coverage can be found here.

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