Best for Trinity winners grapple with pandemic effects

Bombay+Bicycle+Club+opened+to+the+public+at+25%25+capacity+on+Aug.+24+after+closing+its+doors+for+two+months.+Photo+credit%3A+Kate+Nuelle

Bombay Bicycle Club opened to the public at 25% capacity on Aug. 24 after closing its doors for two months. Photo credit: Kate Nuelle

Photo by Kate Nuelle

Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, Trinity students’ favorite hangout and shopping spots near campus have managed to adapt in the face of pandemic-induced economic adversity.

Feliz Modern, Trinity favorite and previous Best for Trinity winner of “Best Boutique” and “Best Place to Buy a Gift,” shut down initially on March 15 — operating as curbside-only until March 25 before closing completely due to stay-at-home orders. One week later, shop owners Ginger and Mario Diaz were packing orders for friends and family and have since reopened to the public. Like many shops, Feliz Modern has had to shift to contactless pickup and shipping.

“It’s definitely been a rollercoaster these past six months. Just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of the new landscape, something else changes,” wrote Ginger Diaz in an email interview. “The challenge for us, being so focused on customer service, is how to still communicate effectively with a mask on, and how to still make it feel welcoming and inviting in-store, even though we have to limit how many people we allow inside at one time. It’s also counter-intuitive to not put our efforts into driving as many people to in-store as possible, and instead pushing online more than in-person to keep crowds down.”

While social distancing measures presumably would lower demand for party decorations and gifts, Feliz Modern has experienced the opposite.

“It’s funny, we really thought that party supplies would die during this time, but they’ve flourished. Even though people aren’t holding big parties, they’re trying to make their family’s celebrations extra special at home,” wrote Diaz. “Our biggest category since COVID has definitely been gifting — people sending ‘thinking of you’ care packages to friends & family across the country.”

Bombay Bicycle Club, previous Best for Trinity winner for “Best Bar,” shifted into a to-go only service model in March, but has since opened up their dining area to patrons at 25% capacity and incorporated new outdoor seating options. This was not without hardship, which included a two month closure following Texas mandates to close bars. Management took this time to consider how to move forward before reopening on Aug. 24.

“It was our decision, we technically could have gone back to our to-go model the same way that we had initially, but we just really felt that we kind of needed to take a step back and really think about our business model and put some effort into thinking about what it needed to look like when we did reopen again,” said Ali Barrera, general manager of Bombay Bicycle Club. “We went ahead and took a couple of months off, and then we were able to reopen again with the new conditions that they’ve given bars, that are technically bars, to be able to open again as restaurants.”

Pizza Classics, repeat Best for Trinity winner of “Best Pizza,” closed its dining area and altered its hours, offering curbside services from March through July. Dine-in services began in September at 50% capacity, with plans to maintain its altered hours of operation until bars reopen and tourism rates increase in San Antonio.

“Initially, we were uncertain how COVID-19 was going to affect our business. As a small, family-run business, everything we can do to keep our customers happy and staff employed is important,” wrote Ryan Constantin, manager of Pizza Classics.

The economic challenges introduced by the pandemic have not been without harm to local businesses, many within San Antonio closing down due to unexpected financial hardships.

“Small business owners definitely have to be nimble or perish, and we’ve been trying a lot of new things like everyone else,” wrote Diaz.

Having held a Mixed Beverage Permit prior to the pandemic, Bombay Bicycle Club sought a food and beverage certificate to continue operations following the state-wide mandatory closure of bars by Greg Abbott, governor of Texas.

“What the food and beverage certificate does for us is it changes our hours of operation. So, our kitchen has to be open the same amount of hours as our bar, which wasn’t the case previously. Our kitchen used to close at 10 p.m. during the week and earlier on the weekends, but now we’re keeping our kitchen open a little bit later, staying open until midnight on the Wednesday through Saturday days,” said Satchie Seidlits, class of ’11 alum and partner of Bombay Bicycle Club, her family’s business. “We didn’t really have to change anything as far as our offerings because we do have a fully-functional permanent kitchen … because we have more kitchen hours we’ve been able to bring on a new staff member, so that’s been a positive for us.”

Bombay Bicycle Club has regained some of their evening and weekend traffic since reopening, but is still seeking to increase weekday patronage, most recently adding weekday lunchtime specials to their offerings. Looking forward, Seidlits hopes to reestablish the momentum that Bombay Bicycle Club had garnered prior to the pandemic.

“I think that one goal [for the year] is just to keep some positive momentum, you know, for the last 31 years that my family has had this business, we’ve never closed. Never. Maybe a day or two in the mix, but to be closed for two months and completely lose our momentum, going into the pandemic we were really on a positive streak,” said Seidlits. “Our business was busier than it maybe ever has been, so the loss of momentum was pretty brutal. But, I think going forward we just love to keep moving forward and continue without closure, continue operating safely.”

As a majority-tenured staff, the bartenders, servers and owners of Bombay Bicycle Club have formed meaningful relationships with community members and one another, making their two-month closure especially difficult on an interpersonal level.

“When we were out for a couple of months, it wasn’t really a vacation per se. We missed being here, we missed seeing the people and having those interactions on a daily basis. That’s been one of the really nice things about being back open, getting to see those people again, you know. Bombay’s such a part of this little community here between [University of the] Incarnate Word and Trinity and the people that live in walking distance and the people in the buildings across the street from us,” said Barrera. “It’s been really nice to see the support and love that they’ve given us while we were closed as well as once we reopened. So that’s been a good thing, but it was definitely a challenge for us as a staff and just as a bunch of people who care about the people who come in. We miss seeing them and knowing that they’re okay, too.”

Bombay Bicycle Club is not alone in noticing the absence of Trinity students.

“On a normal fall semester, it would not be a shock to see the restaurant full of Trinity students on weekend evenings getting late night dinner. With our hours changing and so many less students living on campus, it certainly feels strange to do a weekend without seeing Trinity shirts in our restaurant. We miss Trinity students and really hope they are staying safe,” wrote Constantin.

The absence of Trinity students has been felt not only due to their decreased patronage, but their loss of student team members as well.

“We definitely feel the effects of Trinity’s campus being closed. We had two wonderful Trinity students pre-COVID that had to return to their parents’ homes at spring break and weren’t able to return,” wrote Diaz. “We’ve since hired one Trinity student who lives in San Antonio, so that’s been great to have her on board.”

Not only has the disappearance of university students been noted, but decreased tourism traffic has also proved challenging for businesses such as Pizza Classics, located close to downtown tourist sights.

“As a downtown business, tourism is at the heart of our sales. Before the pandemic the majority of business for our drivers was going to hotels downtown, conferences, or large gatherings and events. With so few people traveling, going downtown, or even eating out less we have definitely felt the slump in sales,” wrote Constantin. “Normally our location next to the St. Marys Strip bars, Trinity University, Incarnate Word and the [San Antonio] Zoo gave us a healthy crowd at different times of the day, but it has certainly been strange missing so many normal customer groups.”

While aiming to make guest experiences as true to pre-pandemic life as possible, Barrera acknowledges that the likelihood of returning to normal operations anytime soon is far-fetched.

“I think as much as we would love to go back to normal, we realize that there’s not really an opportunity for us to do that until this pandemic is really under control, and I think for us that means that there’s a vaccine that is effective and has been around for a while,” said Barrera.