The middle of the Spring 2020 semester like every other: students at The University of Akron preparing for spring break and downtown Akron businesses prepared for the anticipated rush of business that accompanies springtime.
Then, COVID-19 hit the U.S.
UA shut down for weeks before moving to complete online learning. A state-wide stay at home order from Governor Mike DeWine mandated businesses across Ohio to shut their doors for three long months.
“That closure hurt business a lot. One of my locations was never able to re-open after that first closure in March,” Jim King, owner of Angel Falls Coffee Company, said.
King explained that many businesses are in the same boat, and that it seems as if there is nothing more to do than to ride it out.
A manager at Akron’s Spaghetti Warehouse, who preferred to be known as April, said even less people have been dining inside since regulations forced restaurants to limit seating options. King noted a similar decline.
And their struggles are in no way unique. According to Dominic Caruso, the Communications Director of The Downtown Akron Partnership, COVID-19 has negatively impacted most local businesses.
“All businesses are struggling in some way during the pandemic,” Caruso said. “Whether they have been adjusting to changes to operating hours, ability to host visitors, supply-chain delays and, most importantly, maintaining their health, as well as the health of their employees and customers.”
According to Caruso, UA students can help support local businesses in their time of need.
“All of the downtown businesses are owned and operated by your friends and neighbors, people like you and people you know,” Caruso said. “Many times the owner of the business is right there, working alongside their employees, serving customers.”
The Downtown Akron Partnership is an organization that works to support businesses and enhance the community. As part of that, it keeps a regularly-updated list of downtown eateries, where students can find out how to support local merchants at.
Downtown Akron has a lot to offer UA students, even now, when the usual opportunities aren’t there. There are a number of ways students can get involved to help support local businesses.
Caruso encourages students to get involved by following the partnership’s #PictureYourSelfOnMain hashtag and page for upcoming events, programs and experiences.
“There are opportunities here, and where opportunity is lacking, there are people working to make things better,” Caruso said. “Many owners have made creative adjustments to their business.”
Restaurants like The Spaghetti Warehouse have created socially distanced Trivia Nights to drum up business.
Others have implemented additional student discounts that take 10% of more off of a purchase with a student ID. Two such businesses are PigOut Pizza & Barbeque and Blue: A Goodwill Boutique.
A newly created Akronite app allows students and locals to get more bang for their buck downtown.
According to a press release from the City of Akron, the app incentivizes Akronites to shop locally by rewarding them with specialized blimps that are redeemable at participating Akron businesses.
“The Akronite app will enable the city to reward customers for shopping local, improving revenues for our small businesses while helping folks stretch their dollars,” Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said.
Above all, Caruso stresses the importance of remaining hopeful in the face of adversity, for businesses and students alike.
“I’m hopeful and I believe downtown Akron businesses and institutions will thrive,” Caruso said. “Akronites are a resilient people and the things planned for downtown are beginning to fall into place. I have no doubt there will be much more to come.”
Businesses are already thankful to The University of Akron students.
“We always have students coming in here, and we are very grateful,” King said.