The once-crowded and lively Corner has become bare in response to the University’s active encouragement of social distancing and its decision to move classes online. Many students have returned home in accordance with University President Jim Ryan’s request, which leaves businesses on the Corner lacking both workers and customers. Owners must now decide how to go about retaining business while taking into consideration the overall health and wellbeing of the broader Charlottesville community.
On March 24, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered a statewide closure of certain non-essential businesses, including restaurants and dining establishments. However, these establishments may continue to offer delivery and take-out services.
As a result, many restaurants — located both on the Corner and in the greater Charlottesville area — have announced their transition from on-site services to take-out and delivery. Despite the economic threat to their businesses that such limitations present, they have made the decision out of concern for the health of their guests and a desire to curb the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Other establishments, like Trinity Irish Pub, have since temporarily closed.
“This decision is heart-breaking,” reads a joint letter by around 44 Charlottesville restaurants posted in The Charlottesville 29, a restaurant blog. “We all entered this industry because of our passion to care for people. The change in operations will prevent us from caring for our guests and staff in the same manner that we have always enjoyed ... Our hope is that circumstances will soon allow us to resume normal operations without the risk of spreading a pandemic.”
Many restaurants on the Corner have turned to social media to not only inform customers of closures and other procedures but to advertise promotions in an effort to keep business up. Restaurants including Mellow Mushroom and Grit Coffee have begun offering free local delivery to reinforce social distancing practices.
Despite the major economic concerns for local businesses amid the pandemic’s significant reduction in consumerism, Roots – open for take-out and delivery – has been conducting a daily giveaway through Instagram offering prizes such as $200 gift cards to the first three people tagged in the daily post. Giveaway three was dedicated to ensuring food security in the Charlottesville community.
“Right now accessibility to food is very tough,” Roots’s Instagram page states. “We are in close contact with local schools and local non-profits to assess the situation and to quickly assist with access to food. Giveaway three is for those in need: For every like, we will donate 1 kid’s bowl to a child / family in need. Up to 3,000 bowls.”
Pronto! — which is available for take-out and delivery through DoorDash — has also made efforts to support those in need during these difficult times, offering free food to children.
“Due to the local school closures, as well as our massive slowdown in business, we have decided to offer a free meal to any school-aged child needing one until further notice,” Pronto!’s Facebook page stated. “We have food, they need food, it’s a no-brainer. Come on in anytime, no questions asked.”
Just as restaurants on the Corner have been committed to serving the Charlottesville community during these trying times, residents have also made an effort to give back to local businesses. Charlottesville resident Kaitlin Ellwood recognized the economic insecurities facing small businesses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing practices. In response, she created a GoFundMe page collecting money that will be distributed directly to local businesses.
“Restaurants are the heart and soul of our town,” Ellwood said. “In Charlottesville, they are your neighbors, friends, moms, dads, sisters, and brothers. They are your family, your happy place, your spot that feels like home ... It's our turn to show up for them ... No contribution is too small.”
As of Thursday, the page has raised nearly $40,000 out of its $200,000 goal. Donations will be directly distributed to the local restaurant owners and employees that are most in need.
“Your contribution will allow a restaurant employee to pay an important bill, pay their utility bill, afford a doctor's visit, buy a week's worth of groceries ... and so much more!” Ellwood wrote. “There are a lot of restaurant employees that live paycheck to paycheck & depend on their cash tips to survive ... The local restaurant community needs our help now, more than ever.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Gov. Ralph Northam had yet to suspend in-person dining at restaurants. It has been updated to reflect that all restaurants and dining establishments were ordered to close eat-in services to the public March 24.
This article also previously misstated that Pronto! and Trinity Irish Pub have kept their dining spaces open. It has been updated to reflect that Trinity closed on March 17 while Pronto! is now offering take-out and DoorDash delivery only.
The Cavalier Daily regrets these errors.