How the pandemic affected San Marcos residents and businesses

By Ireland Sargent 

SAN MARCOS, Texas— The pandemic caused tragedy and loss for many residents and local businesses around The Square in San Marcos, Texas, forcing a new way of operation for many. The scene that used to encompass the entertainment district around the county courthouse just south of campus has slowly dwindled as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) ran its course, starting in March 2020. Jobs have been lost, businesses have failed, some residents have lost hope – all, in part, due to the lack of activity in and around the Square. 

Jada Johnson, 19, of San Marcos, was planning to attend Texas State in the spring of 2020 for her first semester of college, before being blindsided by the pandemic, which shifted her to remote learning online. After speaking with Johnson, she expressed how she was not given the college experience that she desired and hoped for. 

“I expected the pandemic to lighten up, I had ideas of going in-person to some of my classes, meeting new people, and still having somewhat of a normal school year,” Johnson said. 

Johnson, like many residents and college students, was forced to stay home and to keep indoors with the hope of limiting the spread of the virus. The mandate to stay home affected more than just Johnson’s semester, she spoke about how she felt very isolated and lost; feelings of depression encompassed her. 

“I have never experienced such loneliness and loss of hope, I felt as if I was never going to get the college experience that so many others got to enjoy,” Johnson said. 

Data derived from in-person interviews conducted by Ireland Sargent.

But it is more than just a loss of hope from the people of San Marcos, many businesses surrounding the square began to fade as the level of human activity decreased. The San Marcos Square is the hub for restaurants, live music, shopping, nightspots and recurring events like the Saturday morning farmer’s market. Pre-pandemic, the area was regularly beaming with activity from residents, college students and tourists from nearby towns. 

Local passers by and frequent attendees of The Square reported on social media how sad it was to view The Square during the darkest point of the pandemic. Lilly Arredondo, a resident of San Marcos, said The Square will never be what it was before, and the possibility of recovering is slim. “I think it lost its charm; I remember being able to roam freely without having to fear that I would catch a deadly illness. I now avoid attending my favorite restaurants, nightspots and boutiques that used to be very special to me,” Arredondo said. 

Much like Arredondo, Johnson also feels as if The Square is daunting, and she finds herself avoiding mass gatherings altogether. “I am scared, I fear being in a large group and I don’t want to risk a fun night out for the chance of catching COVID,” Johnson said. 

With some residents fearful of being in large groups, some businesses reported lower sales and more unemployed workers in Hays County according to the 2020 Texas Workforce Commission report of unemployment. The Texas Workforce Commission recorded that the unemployment rate for Hays County rose from 3.8% in March 2020 to 5.3% in March 2021. According to the Greater San Marcos Partnership, roughly a third of the 6,368 residents who filed for unemployment came from the food preparation and service industry, channeling a vast decrease in revenue. 

Root Cellar Café, a local bistro located in the heart of San Marcos, had to close intermittently during the pandemic making times slightly more difficult. 

“Management decided it was best to do takeout orders only to limit contact with customers. I remember it being really slow and we had the smallest staff because they didn’t want to lose labor,” said waitress Madison Dobbes of Root Cellar Café. 

Much like Root Cellar Café, Stellar Coffee Company also endured in a great amount of stress as they battled COVID protocols.  

“It was definitely difficult to adjust to the new protocols, but we handled it well,” said Manager at Stellar Coffee Company Vailoatai Tuatagaloa. “I remember watching as businesses around us slowly began to shut down and plummet to nothing; The Sqaure changed in more ways than one.” 

Interview conducted by Ireland Sargent, featuring manager of Stellar Coffee Vailoatai Tuatagaloa and server at Root Cellar Cafe, Madison Dobbes.

Local organizations and non-profits began offering workshops to spread more information about longevity and keeping business stable during times of low activity. The San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce created a business expo hosted by the San Marcos Daily Record to allow businesses to advertise and highlight all that they had to offer in front of thousands of San Marcos residents. The Daily Record reported another event created by the Greater San Marcos Partnership (GSMP), in which they hosted career and education events to help alleviate the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality and service industries. 

GSMP’s Director of Workforce Barbara Thomason said GSMP hopes to bring new opportunities to employees in the area to help with career shifts and opportunities to address the rise in unemployment. 

“Leisure, hospitality and retail have been hit the hardest. We felt like it was important to respond to that need,” Thomason said. 

Thomason hopes that others will let go of old ways and understand that there are more opportunities to succeed in life and work. 

“As long as people are willing to make a shift, as long as people don’t hold on to old paradigms…maybe consider something in a skilled trade of manufacturing, the opportunities could be endless and that’s what we are hoping to expose them to,” Thomason said. 

Date derived from the Texas Workforce Commission Report according to specific year.

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