Editor’s Note: This is another in a series of profile spotlighting members of our community and how they are facing the coronavirus crisis.
Shop owners and restaurant proprietors in downtown Auburn have more in common than proximity to the AU campus and tough times brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak.
They have Tucker Boswell.
Boswell, 35, has been their UPS driver for about a year, pulling up in front of their places every day in that big, brown van to pick up or drop off packages. He chats them up about their kids, grandkids and how their businesses are faring.
“I like Tucker, he’s a really good guy,” said Michael Overstreet, who has managed Toomer’s Drugs for 20 years.
Those friendly chats turned gloomy in early March, as the coronavirus outbreak reared its head. They got worse by the middle of the month, when Auburn University decided to close its campus to students and deprive these businesses of both customers and employees.
“The shops felt it immediately,” said Boswell, a Tennessee native who moved here 16 years ago. “The whole spring calendar was cancelled for the university. Downtown counts on the students and AU just as much or more than anyone.”
All of the sudden, the daily banter about his family (wife Amanda, a kindergarten teacher, and sons Hudson, 4, and Davis, 6) and his customers’ comings and goings gave way to updates on how much business they didn’t do the day before.
Some of the businesses along College and Magnolia avenues have seen three-quarters of their business go away. Some shops have tried pivoting to online sales and delivery service to make up the difference, with unimpressive results so far.
Restaurants are trying to hold on with home deliveries and curbside pickup, while their normally-packed dining rooms sit idle.
“Even if some of the doors are closed now, there are still people working to try to stay open,” Boswell said.
Boswell decided that these businesses, owned and operated by his friends, need some help, and he’s not the kind of guy to just hope for the best. He talks up these businesses to anyone who will listen and reminds them to buy gift cards from the stores.
One solution he and the businesses are promoting is #KeepAuburnRolling, a new Instagram campaign. Take a picture of yourself supporting a local business and you qualify for a weekly drawing for a $100 gift card to be used with a local merchant.
The effort took a hit last week when Gov. Kay Ivey ordered all “nonessential” businesses in the state to shut down until COVID-19 is contained.
Gas stations, groceries and a handful of other types of businesses can keep operating, but most of the shops downtown Auburn could be forced to shut down for a bit.
Boswell, 35, is undeterred, however.
“I want Auburn to look the same when this is all over,” he said.