SunnySide

El Campoan Sheldon Holub shows off photographs of all the customers he has accumulated over the years at the SunnySide Inn bar he runs with his wife, Karen. The Holubs were forced to close during the coronavirus pandemic, like many businesses, but were able to reopen briefly before being required to close again. 

If you’re planning on enjoying a cold beer this holiday weekend, Sheldon Holub wishes he could pour it.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, however, has said that won’t happen.

Since the pandemic shutdown orders were issued April 1, Sheldon and Karen Holub’s SunnySide Inn at 1214 S. Mechanic has only been open for a few hours.

He’d like to work, Holub said Thursday, and so would his staff. His business, however, is trapped in the limbo of coronavirus closure orders. He’s not out of business, but the doors cannot be opened to the public. When, or even if, that will change will likely be decided in a state capitol staff meeting, one he won’t be invited to attend.

“Everybody else is taking off and going to the bay (this Labor Day). We’d rather work. It’s going on six months,” he said.

SunnySide Inn has been in Holub’s family since 1961 offering an assortment of beer and setups, for the most part, to visitors and a group of regulars who see themselves as a family.

“It’s been a big strain mentally,” Holub said.

He owns the building, so is only responsible for property tax rather than monthly rent. The bills for the lights and water, however, are still due monthly.

“Nobody is giving any breaks,” he said.

His employees are collecting unemployment now. He doesn’t know whether they’ll be willing to come back whenever the state allows him to reopen the doors.

Sunnyside is rather unique in El Campo in that it is a true bar, not a restaurant that serves alcohol. Other establishments may have the traditional long wooden bars inside, but they keep the doors open with the amount of food they sell.

Holub’s place makes its money on brews.

“If I wanted to open a restaurant, I would have done so a long time ago,” he said, nixing recommendations to park a food truck out front or convert a section of his establishment into a kitchen.

SunnySide Inn has always been a sort of hybrid. It’s not a restaurant, but you could often find food there, just not much for sale.

Patrons brought it in on weekends and some week nights by the crockpot and platter, snacks to share with those at their table or everyone in the entire establishment.

“My sweet Aunt ... is missing her domino family,” one woman posted on the businesses’ social media page, just one of dozens bemoaning the establishment’s closure. 

Hot dogs and from-the-box pizza were sold. Decades ago, old timers say, the bar offered eggs and opened for the liquid lunch crowd back when that wasn’t completely taboo.

Since April, Holub has ordered and paid for beers and other drinks, iced them down and then had to turn them back in two to three times, depending on the brand.

That’s money invested with no return, much of it in limbo as he awaits refunds.

“In June, I ordered (product when the state said bars could reopen),” he said, but added that didn’t last long.

“I was given a three-hour notice of being shutdown again. Three hours. That wasn’t really fair,” he said.

In recent years, SunnySide closed down for holiday weekends like Labor Day, but Holub said he’d love to make an exception this year.

Instead, he reminisces over past days and friends he met on the other side of the bar.

“I would have opened (this Labor Day weekend),” Holub said.

The 4,000-square-foot building allows for a small crowd, generally one that spreads out among the tables rather than clusters in just one spot.

Entertainment took to the tiny stage many weekends. That had been the plan in 2020, before any of us had ever heard of COVID-19 or thought a global pandemic could be anything more than a movie plot.

“I had entertainment booked for the whole year of 2020,” he said. “I’ve talked to some. They may go out of business. It’s going to hurt everybody down the line.”

Now Holub drives by the locked doors or stops for a moment to check the building, to stand at the empty bar or look out across to the dark and empty stage, to remember performers, Sunday dominoes and pool tournaments. 

“We’ve got loyal patrons. But there’s been a change in society, I think. People are getting used to staying home. That could hurt in the long run,” Holub said.

Others insist people are ready to get out, and he’s one of them.

“It’s depressing and heartbreaking to have something you want to do and can’t. We will reopen one day,” he said. “We want everybody to be safe. We have a older people (among patrons). It’s time to get back together.”

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