Kaden Ruiz sanitizes the door handle at the Sisters Grimm Ghost Tours shop during her shift. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Lisa Smith planned to run the Culinaria 5K Wine Run on Saturday morning. The race would take her on a three-mile course through the Shops at La Cantera with a finish line reception complete with entertainment, food, and beverages.

Her plans changed when Mayor Ron Nirenberg declared a public health emergency due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus. The declaration prohibits public gatherings of 500 people or more, spurring a number of event cancellations or postponements.

Nirenberg described limiting public gatherings as San Antonio’s “first line of defense” and said it would be a disservice to “willingly push the envelope” on the community’s health.

This sentiment is why Smith learned just one day before she was supposed to run a 5K that the race would be postponed. Trying to salvage her weekend, Smith figured she would go to the Pearl’s weekend farmers market.

But on Friday afternoon, farmers market organizers announced the weekly event would also be suspended until further notice.

So Smith arrived at the Pearl Saturday morning, searching for a way to spend her day. She grabbed a drink with a friend and watched as several hundred San Antonians still milled about, wandering in and out of restaurants and shops.

“This too shall pass,” Smith said, taking a sip. “I do worry about those with weaker immune systems, but I have to say, Fireball kills strep [throat].”

The Pearl’s weekend farmers market is suspended until further notice, so the Pearl is quieter than it would normally be on a Saturday. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Pearl business owners remarked that foot traffic was slower than normal, but San Antonians also weren’t hiding away at home in fear of contracting coronavirus.

“Parking was a lot easier to get today,” Bakery Lorraine server David Saucedo said.

That was also true at Rivercenter Mall, where families still idled on benches, got shoe shines, and perused the shelves at the Disney Store, although at a slower rate than mall employees expected for spring break.

Jerry Alarcon works as a jeweler at Harris Jewelery, which caters to military families. On a normal weekend, the mall is buzzing with families in town for military graduations, in the mood to purchase celebratory gifts.

On Saturday, however, Alarcon said he saw only a trickle of his usual business. Alarcon pointed to new restrictions placed on military bases because of coronavirus. Lackland Air Force Base graduations that are normally well-attended by proud families have been transformed in the wake of the growing health crisis. Parents are not allowed at graduation ceremonies and graduates are being kept on base, according to a report by the San Antonio Express-News.

“We’ve barely seen any of the military out today,” Alarcon observed.

He and a fellow jeweler stood in the store entrance, trying to attract shoppers, but the store remained relatively void of customers Saturday afternoon.

Jerry Alarcon, a jeweler at Harris Jewelery, (right) greets mall-goers. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Just outside the mall, Kaden Ruiz sat at the front desk of the Sisters Grimm Ghost Tours shop. Ruiz’s husband works overnight at H-E-B and has had to adapt to changing hours to meet the restocking needs of customers.

H-E-B announced it would change store hours to 8 a.m.-8 p.m. to allow time to restock shelves. At several H-E-Bs around the city, this might have been a necessary step, as fridges and shelves emptied and lines stretched long. Store management posted notices that products would be back soon, but that didn’t always stop shoppers from piling groceries high in their carts.

The grocery store is unlikely to be the only retailer changing hours and work schedules to adapt to new habits brought about by the city’s coronavirus response, Ruiz said. Business owners at Sisters Grimm have also considered altering hours to adapt to customer demand.

A woman looks at the empty meat shelves at South Flores Market H-E-B. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

While downtown still looks busy, there is less foot traffic in general, Ruiz remarked.

Ruiz and other residents have marveled at how growing fears about coronavirus have changed the city drastically in some ways – empty shelves in grocery stores, school closures, and event cancellations – and kept it relatively the same in others.

Many on Saturday turned to humor to lighten the mood. Ruiz laughed when talking about the rush to stock up on toilet paper and the ensuing panic from shoppers who couldn’t find any.

“I mean, if you really can’t find toilet paper, you can always use a squirt bottle,” Ruiz said. “It can be done. Desperate times call for innovation.”

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.