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Local Businesses Struggle as BC Students Leave Campus

When Kelly Hoffman was on her shift at White Mountain Creamery on March 15, Boston College seniors, some of them crying or on the verge of tears, flocked into the store for one last serving of ice cream before leaving for home. Four days earlier, University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. announced that BC would move its classes online and require its students to move out for the semester.

As the students and faculty members of the University are adapting to their new online environment, the stores closely linked to BC have felt the impact of the University’s decision on their business. For the stores across from St. Ignatius Church on Commonwealth Avenue, the University’s decision took away a portion of their loyal customers: BC students. 

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued a stay-at-home advisory on Monday and ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses, which is set to go into effect on Tuesday at noon. But as of Monday, White Mountain, Crazy Dough’s Pizza, Richdale Food Shops and the Subway inside of it, and the UPS Store will be staying open. Under Baker’s order, restaurants and other establishments that sell food are encouraged to continue offering take-out and delivery, so long as they follow the Department of Public Health’s guidance on social distancing.

Yet, with the rapid development of the coronavirus outbreak, the future of the businesses that neighbor BC’s campus remains uncertain.

For Ernie Rozzi, the owner of Crazy Dough’s Pizza, the absence of students was devastating to his business. Rozzi estimated that around 75 to 80 percent of the patrons, most of them BC students, were gone after the University’s decision.

When Rozzi was talking, a man walked in and out the pizzeria, bringing inside bags and boxes of ingredients. The man was not an employee, Rozzi said, but a family member helping out. Since the University’s decision, Rozzi has laid off all his employees due to the hefty cost of maintaining the restaurant.

Vishal Amin, owner of the Subway inside the Richdale Food Shops, said that his business lost 84 percent of its customers since BC’s closure. The halt on all construction projects in Boston by Mayor Marty Walsh, BC ’09, also took away construction workers who were patrons of his business.

To Rozzi and Amin, the situation is different from that of a typical summer break. Amin said that between athletes and the students coming for orientation, summer business would have been decent. For Rozzi, the summers simply mean “a different vibe” for his business, he said. He will lay tables out on the patio outside of Crazy Dough’s, his business attracting neighbors from the area and visitors of BC alike.

For the moment, however, things appear dim—with a large percentage of their customers gone, the future of Rozzi’s and Amin’s businesses is uncertain. 

Amin has temporarily cut his staff from 15 to eight people and is supporting the Subway with revenues from another business of his. While his business can recover if students return in September, he said, its fate will be uncertain if they still do not return by December. 

Crazy Dough’s is coping with the situation by offering contact-free deliveries, Rozzi said, but he estimated that his business cannot remain open for long without government interventions.

The UPS Store, another store across the street from St. Ignatius, was less shaken by the outbreak. Juan Monero, who works at the store, said that while the departure of BC students certainly reduced the flow of customers, the store also serves many locals residents and will remain operating as normal for the moment.

“We deliver medicine, we provide mailboxes and stuff like that, so we’re essential to the normal day-to-day life,” Monero said. “So, not much can change with us.” 

White Mountain, while a popular spot for BC students, also has a relatively solid local customer base. Kelly Lavelle, MCAS ’22, and Hoffman, who work at the creamery, said that BC students only account for about half of the customers. While the number of BC customers went down after the craze that lasted until last Sunday, the store has other customers to rely on, such as police and firefighters who frequent the creamery at night. 

Hoffman and Lavelle also said that because many employees at the creamery were BC students, the store did not have to lay off employees, as many of them left after the University’s closure. 

While the Boston Marathon was postponed, which took away a profitable event for their business, the creamery still has a lot of customers during summers, Hoffman said.

“During the summer, there’s a lot more families, people from around here, like Boston, coming in at night,” Hoffman said. “Especially if you’re working on a Friday, it’ll be like non-stop serving people. And I mean, there are still students over the summer. But I think it’s just because, I mean, ice cream and summer go together.” 

But summer is still two months away, and some can’t wait until then. 

“Without government funding, maybe [we can last] a few more weeks, or a month,” Rozzi said of Crazy Dough’s. “It’s not feasible to keep these doors open—they are costing thousands of dollars a day just to keep the lights on, the building, and the rent.”

Featured Image by Archer Parquette/Heights Senior Staff

March 23, 2020