During a pandemic-filled summer in San Marcos, business owners could recognize pin drops as they either reminisced about an earsplitting but satisfying student presence or unwillingly taped signs to their doors indicating temporary closure.
Now, just a mini-exercise program away from Texas State, at Mochas & Javas, the familiar view of students hovered over textbooks and laptops has returned. Iced coffees and pastries remain a go-to, now with a side of face masks and social distancing.
“Whether our guests are passing through to get caffeinated or making themselves comfortable to Zoom into their class, our locations have been quite lively,” said Grace Mills, Mochas & Javas marketing director. “Nowhere near as lively as a typical fall semester, but we are slowly but surely seeing increases.”
In addition to operating at 50% capacity, Mochas & Javas is taking precautions to ensure the safety of its customers and employees.
“Half of our tables are unavailable for seating to maintain safe distances between customers,” Mills said. “Our self-service bar is also unavailable and everything beverage and food-related is happening behind the counter to ensure no cross-contamination.”
Not all students have returned to San Marcos for the fall semester, but Daniel Palomo, manager at Vitality Bowls, says business has definitely increased since the summer when the city felt like a ghost town.
“I’ve never seen San Marcos like that,” Palomo said. “I’m not like a super long time resident, but it was like a scene from ‘The Walking Dead’ walking through campus and downtown San Marcos during the summer.”
While the city’s ambiance has yet to fully return to what it was pre-pandemic, Palomo says things are beginning to look positive now that students have returned. Vitality Bowls’ mission is to help people understand the importance of maintaining their health, especially in a pandemic. Palomo says Vitality Bowls is happy to once again put that mission into action, even if it is only through to-go orders and the restaurant’s open outdoor patio.
“We just want people to be healthy, and be safe, and be mindful of where you put your body and what you put into it,” Palomo said.
While the return of students may have increased the demand for restaurant service, some businesses have been occupied in other ways.
The popular purple house known as Tantra Coffeehouse has not brewed coffee since March, back when Texas State implemented remote learning and the coffeehouse had to close its doors in compliance with the state’s orders.
“Students essentially had spring break forever; [they] went on spring break and never came back,” said Eli Zabolsky, owner and operator of Tantra Coffeehouse. “We rely on students to support us for the most part. It has been kind of bittersweet; we need the traffic to sustain our business, and we really see that with students.”
With the coffee shop’s temporary closure, Zabolsky says the ability to pay for service industry contracts, such as rent, waste services, towel services and point-of-sale services have been impacted.
“Fortunately, we were able to pause some of these financial obligations such as San Marcos City utilities and Spectrum Internet,” Zabolsky said. “However, some of the larger corporations we contract with, like Aramark [for uniform supplies] and Upserve [for POS system], will do just about anything to make sure you uphold agreements, even in the face of closure due to a pandemic.”
Tantra’s plan to reopen in July fell through after COVID-19 cases began to rise across Hays County. While the coffeehouse remains temporarily closed, its team is working to make sure it can open smoothly after winter break.
The coffeeshop plans to go 100% cash-less to reduce the number of transactions between customers and employees, in hopes of making the ordering process as contactless as possible.
“We’ve taken a lot of precautions for reopening, regardless of what the [COVID-19] situation looks like when we plan to re-open,” Zabolsky said. “We plan to use a different form of ordering where we have scannable QR codes at our tables, so there’s less interaction inside.”
A walk-up window could also be in the works to provide less traffic at the front door of the coffeehouse.
Since reopening in May, when the state allowed some business to increase their occupancy to up to 50% capacity, Industry has been nothing short of busy. Now that students have returned, things have escalated even more.
“After a super busy summer and a lot of restaurants and bars still not fully open, we’re seeing more students than usual this month,” said Harlan Scott, owner and operator of Industry. “It’s a great mix of students, families and professionals.”
Scott says the restaurant has served many new customers who never previously tried it. Recognizing it took a pandemic for some to find out about it and support it, he is grateful costumers have found an environment where they feel safe.
“People look at Industry for the first time, and when they came in they understood what Industry was about, which is really that we aren’t trying to be a restaurant where you eat, but a community space where you can hang out,” Scott said.
Whether or not San Marcos businesses will sustain the recent uptick in customers is uncertain, as the future of on-campus learning during the pandemic remains in the air at Texas State.