St. Paul Square business owners struggling to stay open, adapting to new normal amid pandemic

Business owners are finding creative ways to increase foot traffic

St. Paul Square business owners struggling to stay open, adapting to new normal amid pandemic

San Antonio – Tenants at the St. Paul Square are finding creative and innovative ways to adjust during the COVID-19 climate.

How was business before the pandemic hit?

“The intention behind the St. Paul Square Espee project was to attract local residents to this area and to cater to convention and tourism business,” said Michael Jersin, one of the owners of the St. Paul Square Espee project. “We wanted to take care of the East Side, number one. We made tremendous progress with the Espee which was formerly known as the Sunset Station. We had concerts booked. We had festivals. We had markets. We had a wonderful local catering group. That was the intent when we purchased the project.”

“Business was great,” said Thomas Hogan, owner of Toro Kitchen and Bar. “We have been here for about two years. We were packed pretty much every day of the week and on the weekend we would have sometimes a 1-hour to 2-hour wait.”

“Before, business was booming,” said Adrian Martinez, owner of Smoke BBQ Restaurant. “Whether it was a Monday night where we seeing thousands people from the convention center or whether it was a Friday or Saturday night where we were seeing different types of weddings, graduations or different events. We turned this into one of the most amazing venues.”

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How has business been since the pandemic hit?

“It’s impacted obviously convention and tourism business as it relates to the Espee,” Jersin said. “It’s impacted our concerts. It’s impacted our permanent tenants, specifically the entertainment-oriented tenants, the restaurants and the bars.”

“It was pretty bad,” said Hogan. “We closed for a month, then we reopened curbside and delivery. We were still hurt pretty bad but we still did the curbside delivery and then we reopened for dining when the government said we could, so it’s been slow but we are getting through it. We have had a drop in revenue. At first, we were 90% down and now we are 60% under what we were before.”

“Foot traffic has decreased,” Martinez said. “Everything that I built my entire business around was around large groups coming together in tight spaces. So with social distancing and the virus being out there, things changed dramatically. We were able to pivot our business by doing curbside takeout. At many times, especially during the holiday, we had traffic that would line up all the way down to the highway and even go towards the Alamodome.”

What have you done to adapt to this challenging climate?

“Pursing tenants right now is a bit of a challenge but we are not giving up by any means,” Jersin said. “We hope that our location coupled with what we have done with the project will sell itself. We just remodeled the courtyard which is going to allow our current restaurants to offer an outdoor area where you can social distance in the immediate future and probably in the near future. This is not just for our tenants but for our residents as well.”

“We were already at the tail-end of our 5-year lease at St. Paul Square so we have made the ultimate decision to move to a new location at 501 East Crockett,” Martinez said. “It is a smaller location where we will be more focused on our core barbecue. “The site we are creating there is going to be a smaller restaurant but large outdoor dining space transitioning it from Smoke BBQ venue to Smoke BBQ Live.”

What words would you have for people looking into the future for local businesses?

“We are not stopping,” Jersin said. “We have a significant pavilion area a part of the Espee that before COVID, could hold up to 4,000 people. With distancing and safety measures, we can now attract 500 to 1,000 people which we would need to determine. We have significant outdoor areas. We will continue to do festivals and events safely of course with spacing. We are going to continue to pursue tenants.”

“Keep supporting local businesses,” Thomas said. “Keep going out. Just stay safe. Stay strong and I’m sure in a couple of months we will get through this and all of this will be over with.”

“The uncertainty is there,” Martinez said. “No one has any idea of what is going to happen and when people think they do, they don’t. Do I think we are going to go to the normal anytime soon? I think we are in the new normal. I think the best part of being a local business owner is adapting and knowing when it is the right time to make some changes.”

About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.