After a quiet six months in New Haven, local establishments are enjoying the business brought by the thousands of local university students returning to campus.
Since Gov. Ned Lamont’s March 23 order of a state-wide shutdown of non-essential businesses, restaurants have been eager to reopen. But although they have been reopening slowly under new social distancing guidelines, many New Haven businesses have struggled to adapt to life after the onset of COVID-19. With the absence of university students, restaurateurs have found themselves feeling as though they’ve lost part of their community. For Claire Criscuolo, the owner of Claire’s Corner Copia, the return of students has filled the void left by the state-wide shutdown.
“[These past few months] made us realize how much we really love hugging people,” Criscuolo told the News. “It made us realize how much we miss everybody and how this community works and how much we are all together in it.”
Despite the financial and social hardships brought by the pandemic, Criscuolo has maintained a positive attitude, opting to use the free time during the store’s shutdown as an opportunity to renovate her restaurant. As an owner of a vegetarian restaurant, Criscuolo was motivated to help keep the community healthy by upgrading their air conditioning filtration systems, disinfecting their air vents and installing ion-generators.
Still, the lack of students since March has put financial pressure on many downtown businesses and left New Haven feeling oddly empty.
“At the end of the day, New Haven really relies on Yale students and Yale as a community to thrive and I think the only way we can ever get back to where we were in March is to get the University back where it once was,” said New Haven native and Yale student Sid Lewis-Hayre ’22.
Like Lewis-Hayre, other Yalies and Elm City residents who remained in New Haven this summer said this summer felt eerily quiet. When asked whether or not he’s noticed restaurants employing new strategies to bring in business, Lewis-Hayre mentioned the rise in popularity of socially distanced outdoor dining. Many downtown restaurants — especially those located on College and Crown Streets — have found success moving many tables outdoors with the help and approval of city government officials.
George Koutroumanis, owner of Yorkside Pizza, said he saw a loss of sales not only because Yale students moved out of New Haven in March, but also because of the absences of visitors, such as tourists, prospective Yale athletes and high school campers over the summer. He added that the unusual empty city left many searching for a sense of normalcy.
“With the Yale students and the Yale faculty disappearing, we were down close to 70 percent [of normal business],” Koutroumanis said. “We’re really intertwined with the community, with Yale, with athletics, with education. Usually, people come here with their families to celebrate getting into a fabulous school like Yale, and we love being a part of that celebration.”
Luckily, with the return of students starting in mid-August, business owners have been happy to see an uptick in business. Kelsey Cote, a representative from Blue State Coffee, expressed her excitement for students’ return to campus. The coffee shop chain, which closed down its four New Haven locations in mid-March, slowly began the process of opening three of their four shops with newly implemented social distancing measures in May. Cote noted that, as a business with a customer base that is largely made up of members of the Yale community, their locations have seen an uptick in sales since the start of classes.
Restaurants and other non-essential businesses began Phase Two reopening on June 17.