Home Castle Hills North Side merchants fight to stay afloat

North Side merchants fight to stay afloat

COVID-19 forces merchants to get creative, do more online

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Despite closures of North Side dining rooms and all retail shops for weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19, many businesses remain hopeful the economic picture is only going to improve.

On April 27, Gov. Greg Abbott said eateries, stores, movie theaters, malls and other sites — but not bars, hair dressers or nail salons — could reopen May 1, with the stipulation they operate at 25 percent capacity inside their walls.

Curbside service, pickup, takeout and third-party delivery remain options if customers order over the phone or online. More restrictions could be dropped later based on testing and infection rates. Also rescinded were stay-at-home orders.

“Yes it’s scary, yes it’s dangerous, and it’s not a joke, COVID-19 is real. We’re fortunate that we’re not in situations like New York City is, but the only way to do this is to keep going. There’s no option,” said Lindsey Edwards, who co-owns Meadow Neighborhood Eatery + Bar with her husband and chef, PJ Edwards.

Lindsey Edwards said they haven’t had to dismiss anyone from their small crew.

Abbott earlier relaxed rules on alcohol purchases so customers could order cocktails, wine and beer to go from eateries.

Edwards said the business has made adjustments to follow new health guidelines.

“We’re making sure everyone has face masks, quarantining, all of that stuff to keep everybody safe and protected,” she said.

Abbott, who advocates wearing face masks, said such apparel is not mandatory any longer and will not carry criminal penalties. San Antonio and Bexar County officials in late April questioned the governor’s decision and urged all residents to continue covering their faces.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease denoting a novel strain of coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. The malady spread across the planet, leading the World Health Organization in March to declare a pandemic.

Shelter-in-place orders took effect in San Antonio and Bexar County at midnight March 24 and have been extended several times. They called for nonessential businesses to stay closed, prohibited crowds and required residents to stay in their homes while maintaining social distancing of 6 feet when they are out in public.

Still in place is the governor’s decree to keep all schools closed through the spring semester, with students finishing their classwork via distance learning or paper lesson packets.

Meadow’s landlord proved helpful throughout the ordeal, including ordering meals and working with the Edwardses on rent.

Not everyone renting a business space has received the same treatment, but government officials suspended evictions as workers were laid off, furloughed or terminated. Unemployment claims have hit a number not seen in decades, officials reported.

Megan Morales, owner of family-run bakery Cereal Killer Sweets, said they are taking things one day at a time.

“We’re good at rolling with the punches. As soon as one thing happens, we just move on to the next,” she said.

At first, Morales offered pickup and curbside options, but when COVID-19 infections started rising, she closed the storefront and did business solely online.

“People (are) responding to this better because we’re family-owned. … Everything is contactless,” Morales said.

In spite of the setback, the shop has been thriving with more than 1,000 treats selling each week. At press time, those with a sweet tooth could purchase items online.

Retail businesses have also been affected by closures, and some are doing better than others. Kerri Arnold, proprietor of 3 Sassy Chicks, said sales dropped 90 percent after the boutique was forced to shutter more than a month ago.

“Things are starting to get better,” the owner of the women’s clothing store said.

In addition to a sales drop-off due to the government-mandated closure, the loss of access to outdoor venues at market days and trade fairs has hurt. When the pandemic hit, she also had to build a website from scratch.

“I guess we’re learning our new norm for now,” Arnold said. “Online was a really small part of our revenue. It wasn’t a big thing that we paid attention to … As of late it, of course, became the main source of income.”

The landlord for 3 Sassy Chicks did give them a break on March’s rent, Arnold said.

Many businesses have applied for loans through federal, state and local programs.

“We’re doing everything we can do just to stay open and we will do whatever it takes. We’re not going to be one of those that closes down,” Arnold said.

Her employees are not working, but she hopes to pay them retroactively if she’s able to secure a loan.

The governor’s decision at the end of April will help.

“I think with this kind of pandemic, you have to become solution-oriented,” she said.

Owners of both Cereal Killer Sweets and Organically Bath & Beauty Inc. have found ways to give back to the community in spite of their own struggles.

Morales served more than 2,000 meals within the first week of the pandemic shutdowns. With the help of volunteers, she bought and made sandwiches distributed to those in need.  She also has been donating to other causes.

In April, Organically Bath & Beauty owner Kela Nabors donated a luxury gift set to health care workers at University Health System and Brooke Army Medical Center for each one sold.

She also contemplated creating hygiene packs for homeless shelters.

Even though her shop had to close its doors at the time, Nabors said she found a silver lining because the shutdown gave her time to revamp their online presence.

“I really started to realize that this has been a reset for us,” Nabors said. “It just made me pay attention to a very important piece of our business.”

Not only can the company’s handmade bath bombs, soaps and more be purchased online, but customers can also buy the goods to make the items at home through a virtual class.

“It’s just a good way to check in, too, and stay engaged with our customers,” she said.

Nabors also had the shop ready for an uptick in business May 1.

What’s more, the store got approval for a grant to help stay solvent.

“It’s a mental and also a real physical thing that’s happening,” Nabors said. “The amazing part about it is you can always find a way to turn it around.”

Businesses looking for information on grants and loans can visit the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website at sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources.

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