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Businesses in College Towns Hit Hard by Campus Closures Due to Coronavirus

Businesses in College Towns Hit Hard by Campus Closures Due to Coronavirus

“It was like a light switch turned off.”

This story focuses on Amherst, MA, but the same would apply to pretty much any town that relies on colleges and universities as a major part of the local economy.

NBC News reports:

When a university closes for COVID-19, its college town may not survive

For more than a century, the office supply store A.J. Hastings has opened its doors to the public every day without fail, a community staple in a quintessential college town.

That streak endured through the 1918 flu and world wars, national holidays and even a move. “Through thick and thin,” said Sharon Povinelli, who co-owns the store with her wife, Mary Broll.

Located in the heart of Amherst, the store has been a mainstay for students at Amherst College and Hampshire College, and the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts.

“We’ve been here almost as long as the universities here,” Povinelli said.

The third-generation-owned business never broke its opening streak — until the coronavirus pandemic hit. A.J. Hastings, along with millions of other businesses across the country, closed in March to curb the spread of COVID-19, while colleges shut down their campuses and turned to remote learning.

Since closing its doors to customers, the store has transitioned to curbside pickup and internet sales while the physical location goes through renovations to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Financial strain from COVID-19 has been especially acute for college towns like Amherst, where the loss of students has meant the loss of money they poured into local economies. Undergraduate students — about 25,000 at the three schools combined — made up nearly three-quarters of Amherst’s total population. That population largely left Amherst when the campuses closed.

“What we’re seeing now is a kind of ghost town,” said Gabrielle Gould, executive director at the Amherst Business Improvement District. “It was like a light switch turned off.”


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