The coronavirus pandemic has already changed the economic landscape of San Antonio, and local entrepreneurs don’t yet know what the new normal will look like.

Some are just trying to weather the storm, while others have adapted creatively to identify new customers and markets for their skills. The city’s entrepreneurs have all been affected differently, said Pat Matthews, CEO of San Antonio’s Active Capital, a venture capital firm focused on technology startups.

“Some companies will struggle to raise financing, and if they’re spending more than they’re making, they could find themselves in trouble quickly,” Matthews said. “Some companies may pivot to more relevant products and services given how fast the world has changed and all the new opportunities to pursue as a result, and some will thrive if they’re already in a good place.”

Here are the stories of five San Antonio entrepreneurs and how the pandemic has affected their businesses. 

The Magicians Agency Theater

Professional illusionist Scott Pepper has performed at The Magicians Agency Theater on Alamo Plaza for the past two years. Pepper, a United Kingdom native who owns the theater, said he chose to start his business in San Antonio because of its status as a tourist destination.

Pepper has been a professional illusionist since he was a teenager and has performed all over the U.S. and on cruise ships. He said he’d dreamed of owning and operating his own theater for more than 20 years before he was able to make his dream a reality in downtown San Antonio. 

With the city’s tourism industry among the hardest hit by the coronavirus and its resulting shutdowns, Pepper worries what will become of his business should the pandemic outlast his work visa, which will expire in January. 

“I’ve talked with my magic friends, and it’s strange – you sort of lose your identity when not performing,” Pepper said. “For 26 years this is what I’ve done, it’s who I am, what I do. I love magic, it’s my job.”

Being a noncitizen, he was unable to apply for any small business grants or loans to help tide him over, Pepper said.

Pepper said he had just started to turn a profit on operating the theater only weeks before San Antonio’s stay-at-home order was issued. While Pepper said he has enough funds to make it to the end of the year, he hopes to be able to open for the late summer months, when San Antonio’s tourism season is in full swing. 

“If I do lose the business, I’ll know it wasn’t anything I did – it was from circumstances unknown,” he said. “I’m going to do my best to hold on, even if that means waiting for this to blow over.”

Dorćol Distilling + Brewing Co.

In the world B.C. (before coronavirus) San Antonians could visit the Dorćol Distilling + Brewing Co. downtown to try a cocktail made with in-house brandy or an artisanal beer.

To survive in the post-coronavirus world, the 7-year-old Dorćol has changed up its business model to make ends meet.

“[Before, we] hosted monthly events, happy hours with organizations such as SA2020, VIA, [and] Girls Pint Out,” said Chief Engagement Officer Jessica Elizarraras. “These days, as most other companies have, we’ve pivoted to push sales of Kinsman [our brandy] and HighWheel [our beers] to go. Off-site, HighWheel is in eight H-E-Bs, which is new to our model.”

Dorćol co-founder Boyan Kalusevic said the biggest challenge was trying to determine how the company could remain open and functioning when all businesses deemed nonessential were being shut down. For Dorćol, getting some of their beers onto store shelves at H-E-B and selling beer to restaurants was the solution.

A large crowd gathers for drinks at Dorcól Distilling Company on Second Saturday.
A crowd gathers for drinks at Dorćol Distilling + Brewing Co. on Second Saturday in August 2017. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“We’ve made payroll for the past six weeks,” Kalusevic said. “We got the opportunity to remain open, and I made a commitment to keep everyone on staff.”

Kalusevic said he and his team at Dorćol look forward to releasing some of its 6-year aged whiskey for the first time later this year. 

Al’s Gourmet Nuts 

Before the pandemic, Al’s Gourmet Nuts was a mainstay of the Farmer’s Market at the Pearl. The 20-year-old business was one of the first to join the popular weekend market more than 10 years ago, and it sells 15 different flavors of gourmet nuts, from cinnamon pecans to hot and sweet peanuts.

Al’s Gourmet Nuts also sells its products online, partakes in profit-share fundraisers, and participates in special events such as the farmers market and weddings. When the stay-at-home order was issued on March 23, founder and owner Margaret Anaglia said her small business lost almost all its sources of revenue overnight. 

“We’ve taken a big hit, and it’s impacted us greatly,” Anaglia said. “We applied for a [Payroll Protection Program] loan and didn’t get it. We’ve really been reconsidering who we do our banking with because of that.”

With online orders as the only source of revenue for now, Anaglia said she and her husband, Albert, have been reevaluating aspects of their business, such as how to improve their website. 

She said she is thankful for Al’s loyal customers, some of whom have asked how they can help.

“I tell them they can help by continuing to buy from us,” said Anaglia.

Davies Entertainment 

Davies Entertainment manages eight boxers and three musicians and has been featured on a reality television series. But the 1-year-old company took a big hit when the coronavirus-related shutdowns began in late March.

“We’d had a huge event scheduled at the Alamodome for March 28 that we’d sold over 2,000 tickets for,” said Daniel Boskind, a partner at Davies Entertainment. “It was a logistical nightmare.”

Boskind and his partners notified ticket buyers that they could get refunds or trade their tickets in for a rescheduled title match, he said. 

“We also have three music artists we’ve signed, and two of them were scheduled to perform during South by Southwest as official performers,” Boskind said. “This has completely changed how we do business as an entertainment company.”

While the company’s boxers have continued to train and the musicians have put on virtual performances, Boskind said he and his partners are readying for a new normal.

The boxing showdown has been rescheduled for November, and half a dozen concerts are currently scheduled for the summer months, he said. Boskind and the performers will start to go back to their office starting next week with the boxers and musicians going in at different times, he added.

“We’re all adapting,” Boskind said.

San Antonio Ballet School

When Danielle Campbell-Steans opened the San Antonio Ballet School in 2016, she wanted to create a studio where children of all socioeconomic backgrounds could participate in the arts. 

San Antonio Ballet School offers scholarships to students through DanceReach, a program of the ballet school’s nonprofit arm, the San Antonio Youth Ballet.

As an involved teacher and the director of the ballet school, Campbell-Steans said she never imagined she’d be teaching her students over Zoom videoconferences.

“This is not an ideal situation for us,” Campbell-Steans said. “I’m a hands-on teacher. I love to help my students.”

While running a ballet studio over the internet has been a challenge, Campbell-Steans said she is thankful to students’ parents who have continued to support the studio financially while in-person activities are halted.

“We’re trying to find ways to be creative and reach out into the community” for more financial support and donations, she said. 

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.