Home City Uptown businesses grapple with economic uncertainty amid coronavirus pandemic

Uptown businesses grapple with economic uncertainty amid coronavirus pandemic

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Many Court Street business owners found themselves traversing uncharted territory following Ohio University’s announcement to suspend in-person instruction and Gov. Mike DeWine’s order for all restaurants and bars to cease sit-in service amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Businesses swiftly adapted to having fewer students in town and no sit-in customers at restaurants by developing new delivery methods and reducing employee hours. Many owners have seen increases in online sales, and they’ve witnessed the community coming together to support them and promote public health.

Here is what many Uptown businesses are doing to stay afloat during this period of economic uncertainty:

Big Mamma’s Burritos:

Jerry DePizzo, a co-owner of Big Mamma’s Burritos, said the business cut its delivery fee, increased its delivery radius to include locations like The Plains, and reduced its business hours in an attempt to survive.

“As a brand we’ve had a dine-in, pick up and delivery model. So, as a brand, we were certainly prepared to step up and deliver food to the community,” DePizzo said. “What we were not prepared for is when 60% of your population density disappears overnight.”

According to DePizzo, Big Mamma’s has seen significant growth in the past year with business typically being up between 20-60% on any given day. Now, however, it’s swinging the opposite direction with business being down between 20-60%.

“Right now we should be throttled. It’s St. Patrick’s day. There should be a line out the door and we should be packed from the moment we open to the moment we close. There’s nobody here. So, this has had a traumatic and significant impact on the business. It’s been brutal, but I think everyone is in that boat,” DePizzo said.

Big Mamma’s has not laid off any of its staff members, and DePizzo hopes to ensure job security for everyone on staff throughout the health crisis.

Brenen’s Coffee Cafe: 

Jessica Thomas, a co-owner of Brenen’s Coffee Cafe, along with her husband Josh Thomas, have switched Brenen’s to a pick-up only model and purchased high-strength disinfectant to keep their customers safe.

“We were pretty prepared,” she said. “Once we got a handle on Ohio U’s spring break, we could see there would be a lot of changes. We already have a lot of sanitation requirements, so we were pretty comfortable moving forward. We actually anticipated a total closure of restaurants and bars. So, we had kinda already worked out how we were gonna do everything.”

Brenen’s has not laid off any of its staff, but Thomas said that many of its student employees haven’t returned to Athens. 

“Everyone who wanted to come back, we’ve been able to rotate things around. If you want to work and want to be here we can make it happen,” she said of her employees.

Business has been down by about 80%, she added.

“We’ve had some people come in and buy gift cards. We’ve had some people go ahead and pre-purchase meal plans for summer or fall. It’s something I’ve seen pop up on social media, just from people I know in community. It’s a great idea, grab them and save them. You can use them in a few months,” Thomas said, discussing what students have done to support local business during this health crisis.

Casa Nueva: 

Leslie Schaller, a founder and business director at Casa Nueva, said the business recently reduced its hours and moved to a carry-out model.

Schaller said she wasn’t caught off guard by the governor’s order to shut down seating areas in restaurants.

“I’ve been monitoring this on a minute by minute or hourly basis,” Schaller said.

Casa Nueva has not laid off any of its staff, she added. 

“I think we’re still figuring that out,” she said. “I think there are some of our staff members who will choose to stay home.”

Schaller said the restaurant’s supply chain will be fine, but she is concerned about the community.

“We’re concerned about the impact this will have on the local food economy and especially our farmers,” Schaller said.

Like other businesses, Casa Nueva has an online store where it sells merchandise and gift cards. Its sales have increased, and Schaller is glad to see the community come together to support local business.

Donkey Coffee: 

Chris Pyle, co-owner of Donkey Coffee, said they have closed down their seating area, switched over to carry out and suspended programs like the “bring your own mug” promotion, which offered discounted coffee to customers who bought a mug from home.

The shop kept most of its staff but laid off many of its Ohio U student employees on top of reducing business hours.

Pyle speculated online orders at the shop increased because of Ohio U students wanting to support Uptown business, while much of the university remains shut down. He said the business’s online store usually gets three to four orders a week, but now there are between eight and 10 online orders per day.

“It’s really helped. When someone does an online order, that’s huge for us because we’re just trying to survive till the end of the summer,” Pyle said.

Little Professor Book Center:

Nicholas Polsinelli, the owner of Little Professor Book Center, said the store has continued its book delivery service and plans to bring books to customers’ cars so they don’t have to walk into the store.

“I can’t say the university closing came as a huge surprise, but I wouldn’t say that we were prepared,” Polsinelli said. “We had just placed a pretty substantial order for books for the English department’s ‘Lit Fest.’”

Polsinelli estimates that the cancellation of Lit Fest will cost him about a few thousands dollars in sales. He plans to return the books to publishers in hope of receiving a refund and only having to pay the shipping fees to return the books.

“Our supply chain hasn’t been affected yet, but I’m starting to see some delays … at the moment we haven’t been affected, but it definitely could be coming our way very soon,” Polsinelli said.

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One Comment

  1. Leslie Schaller

    March 19, 2020 at 7:33 PM

    Thanks for the story. We need more students like you, who care about the local economy.


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