Uptown Athens during coronavirus emergency
Businesses in Uptown Athens try to stay afloat amid the Covid-19 lockdown. April 3, 2020.

Business in Uptown Athens is Down 50 – 85%, Uncertainty Lingers

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ATHENS, Ohio  (WOUB) — Businesses in Uptown Athens are starting to feel the economic impact of COVID-19. Since Ohio Governor Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency almost a month ago and Ohio University told students not to come back from spring break, things have rapidly deteriorated for some of the local shops, restaurants and coffee shops that define Athens’ character.

All of the businesses that are allowed to operate are now requiring their employees to take their temperatures each day before beginning their shifts. Some have changed how they take orders, moved to online ordering and, per the state mandate, all have closed their dining areas. Some are only taking credit cards to avoid exchanging money. Yet, uncertainty lingers as they scramble to modify selling options and schedules to try to stay open.

Uptown Business adapt to coronavirus emergency to survive.
Businesses adapt to coronavirus emergency to survive. Uptown Athens, April 3, 2020.

Jessica Kopelwitz, co-owner of the Fluff Bakery and Catering, says currently her business is “down by about 50% based on the same period in prior years,” and she is afraid that what’s coming could be worse. “Most of the businesses in Athens see a boom over the next two months, which is also the time when COVID-19 will peak.”

Angie Pyle, co-owner of the Donkey Coffee, says their business income has gone down by about 75% despite an increase in online orders. “Donkey has had to cut back hours and lay off 23 of our staff. We are down to 3 managerial type employees plus our 4 family members, including our children, working to try to keep the business afloat.”

“It’s devastating. Currently our business is open, but we have lost the majority of our customer base with the majority of students leaving the Athens area and the university faculty and staff working from home,” says Debby Fulks, owner of Court Street Coffee. Business for them has gone down by about 85%. Court Street Coffee had 15 student employees and 6 full time employees prior to the shutdown. Fulks adds, “We now only have 1 full time employee. We are uncertain of how long we will be able to continue at this rate”

The Bagel Street Deli has currently only one third of their usual staff but owner Megan Meyer isn’t sure if that’s enough to stay open. “On average, our weekly sales are down 70% from sales the same week last year. We consider closing weekly.  We are trying to balance our financial concerns, keeping our employees paid and being there for our community.  We reevaluate this decision every week.”

Kopelwitz shares that uncertainty, “We are doing our best to think each day through and being proactive. We may end up closing at some point, but I cannot tell you when that will be.”

Bagel St. Deli window pick-up adjusting to coronavirus measures.
Athens businesses adapting to coronavirus measures. April 3, 2020

Getting Creative Amid the Crisis

For Tim Martin, owner of Ohio is Home, the pandemic has brought his business to a stand still. “It is hard to assess as everything continues to change day by day, but when you lose all the largest events on the weeks and weekends in a small town, the loss is pretty huge.”

He’s trying to stay afloat by being creative. Ohio Home now offers products like drinking glasses that read “Wine with Dewine” or “Snackin’ with Dr. Acton.”

Nevertheless, Martin says most of the staff at their store were part time student workers who didn’t even make it back from spring break once Ohio University told their students not to return for in-person instruction, “The ones that are around, we sadly just do not have any hours for them to work.”

Small Businesses Loans

Earlier this week, Gov. DeWine announced an initiative that would help provide long-term low-interest loans for small businesses in Ohio’s Appalachian counties.

While some owners have applied to some kind of relief others are waiting for more details before committing to more debt.

Kopelwitz explains, “Reality is the legislation that is being passed does not have as much detail as we need at this point, and it will continue to evolve. The other reality is that we need to make decisions on information that is limited and changing.”

Fulks adds, “we are waiting because we would prefer to not go into more debt until we know that the loan we apply for will be the best for our business.”

Businesses in Athens, Ohio are getting creative to survive the crisis. Photo: Ohio is Home
Businesses in Athens, Ohio are getting creative to survive the crisis. Photo: DeWines feature glass by Ohio is Home

Staying Upbeat and United

Despite the uncertainty and strain, these local business owners are staying upbeat for their community

“We appreciate all the support we have received from the local community and understand that the majority of people are sheltering in place and we look forward to seeing everyone again soon,” says Fulks.

“We want to continue to serve the Athens community when this pandemic is over,” adds Meyer.

Pyle says while her team works on ways to keep Donkey open, she’s also concerned about the bigger picture, “Let’s all think of ways we can hold one another up through positive messages, creative artistic ways to connect despite the physical distancing.”

Martin adds, “Shop local when and where you can! Small businesses are the heart of every town and we work extra to keep things going because we love what we do!”

And Meyer, sums it up, “Hang in there Athens, we are in this together!”


*You can see a list of local businesses here and here.