Downtown Auburn was quiet Saturday, despite sunshine and temperatures in the low 80s, as local businesses try to get by without student spending and student labor.
Auburn University announced Thursday that students were not to return to campus after spring break. Classes will be done online through April 10 and all university events, sports and conferences in the meantime are canceled because of coronavirus.
Businesses in the Downtown Merchants Association met Friday morning at Halftime Bar and Grill to discuss how the campus closure will affect their shops and restaurants.
“After talking to a lot of you, I think the intentions are for most of our businesses to remain open,” said Downtown Coordinator Jessica Kohn. “And if that’s not the case, then we need to know.”
How will this affect Local businesses?
Local businesses not only rely on students living in Auburn for revenue, but also as employees.
These employees have been asked by the university not to return to campus and many, therefore, are out of housing in the city.
Some local students will continue living off campus, but others, who live in the residence halls, are most likely return to their families across the country.
Businesses have to decide whether to keep on employees who won’t be back for work Monday after spring break.
“We sent out a thing to our employees yesterday that was like, ‘Hey, y’all, safety is our first priority,” said Kaitlin Cole, an assistant manager with J&M Bookstore. “Please know if your parents want you home or you need to go home, that’s fine. You will have a job when you get back. You will not be fired because you’re not coming to work.”
J&M is cutting its hours to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and, Cole said, students who aren’t feeling well are told to stay home.
“If you’re not feeling well, do not come to work,” she said. “And if we think you’re not feeling well, we will send you home.”
Local hotels expect to take a hit. Other retailers will get by on business from local residents; however, the hotels don’t have that local base to carry them.
Kim Wirth said her Collegiate Hotel is going to lose business, despite a bump of reservations for Sunday night from students coming back to pick up belongings Monday.
“I can’t afford to keep these kids employed,” Wirth said. “And they’re depending on me. So if you guys have openings, I’ve got a great team. I’m more worried for them … but I mean I don’t have reservations. I can’t employ them, and that’s what I’m most worried about because I have a lot of single moms and I have all my students pay their own tuition.”
Stopping the spreadSome business owners and managers worried about boutiques and the spread of COVID-19 through people trying on clothes.
“Corona doesn’t stay on fibers as much as it does on hard surfaces,” said Chloe Floyd, manager at Behind the Glass.
Floyd said that Behind the Glass employees have developed a cleaning schedule. Four times a day, with a checklist in hand, they wipe down all surfaces and handles.
If cleaning supplies become unavailable, she said, consider making them.
There is also the potential problem of virus transmission via customers and businesses exchanging paper and coined money.
“It was also tossed out, limiting the amount of cash,” Kohn said. “Are there going to be merchants who only accept cards?”
DiningDining venues on campus, such as the Chick-fil-A and Au Bon Pain, have closed with the university. This means that students living off campus and employees who are still coming into work on campus will need alternative dining options, Kohn said.
“I think as far as the restaurants go, if y’all want to get together, or if y’all just want to get with your staff or your management team and let me know what options y’all want to do,” Kohn said. “I’m sure there’s lots of things y’all could come up with … about offering some very specific lunch specials geared toward certain times of the day that y’all may not already offer.”
One downtown restaurant operator, who didn’t wish to be named, said his place would rely more heavily on local delivery apps like Tiger Town to Go, Uber Eats, DoorDash and Postmates.
“We have a lot of online ordering options and stuff like that, so I could see going to, saying people have to order through the app, and everything being to-go,” the representative said. “So we’re trying to stock up on to-go supplies.”
Auburn city officials have noticeably stepping their efforts to encourage residents to do more local shopping and dining.
Mayor Ron Anders and Mayor Pro Tempore Beth Witten both ate at local restaurants this week and advertised that to the public via social media.
The business owners expressed appreciation for this during the Friday morning meeting.
“I know you guys are scared,” Anders said. “Just know that Beth and I — I can speak for Beth and I — are on your side and we care about you. Downtown is very important to our community and we have your best interest at heart. And so if there’s anything that we can do to help you, please let us know.”