Multiple business change-ups have altered the landscape on and around Grounds within the past few months. The popular pasta spot Pronto and the cheesesteak restaurant Sammy’s that opened October of last year both recently closed their Corner locations. On Grounds, the coffee chain Brewbike also closed its doors, and a new Grit location will replace the Starbucks in Nau Hall.
Other closures within the last year on the Corner include Little John’s, The College Inn, Sheetz and The Juice Laundry. Little John’s served customers for 40 years before its closure, and The College Inn was also a fixture on the Corner, having opened in 1953.
The former location of Sheetz remains vacant, but The College Inn has since been replaced with Chipotle. Little John’s was replaced with Sammy’s on the Corner before its closure this year, and The Juice Laundry’s former Corner location will soon be replaced with vape and tobacco shop Carytown Tobacco.
While the former owner of Sammy’s could not be reached for comment, both Brewbike and Pronto cited the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for their businesses’ closures.
Pronto’s former co-owner Daniel Kaufman said the pandemic began to slow business a few months after its January 2020 opening.
“When the students returned in 2021, business was back, but far from the levels we saw with our initial opening,” Kaufman said. “At this point, we were playing catch up, and by the time we got close to catching up, students were gone for the summer and we began accruing debt again.”
In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Aramark Marketing Manager Sarah Gordon similarly pointed to the pandemic as the primary culprit for Brewbike’s closing. Gordon noted that COVID-19 left closing as the only option for the coffee shop.
“Unfortunately, Brewbike will be shutting down operations this semester as the lasting impact of the pandemic has made it impossible to continue,” Gordon said.
In addition to the economic impact of the pandemic, property leases in Charlottesville have increased steadily over the past few years, posing further challenges to local businesses.
Second-year College student Chloe Renken was disappointed in the recent closures. Renken said she found Brewbike convenient, and she noted its closing’s impact on the student workforce.
“I would go [to Brewbike] at least twice a week last year because it used Flex Dollars, and it was right near my chemistry classes,” Renken said. “Also, a lot of students worked there, so I feel bad. I guess they don’t have a job now, and I wonder where they're finding work.”
Despite the challenges faced by other businesses, the popular Charlottesville coffee shop chain Grit was able to expand onto Grounds. Dan FitzHenry, Grit’s chief operating officer, stated that he hopes to maintain the strong relationship between the University and local businesses in an email to The Cavalier Daily.
“It’s clear that U.Va. and Aramark care a lot about partnering with local food and beverage brands, and we’re honored to be among those with a physical footprint on Grounds,” FitzHenry said. “Our hope is that we can continue to have a great partnership with the U.Va. community and provide a great service for the students, faculty and staff that come to visit us.”
Despite the closures, students are still looking forward to what the changes will bring to the University. Second-year College student Annabelle Hartch is excited about the option for Grit coffee on-Grounds.
“I'm hoping that the Grit will be of similar quality as the one off of the Corner,” she said. “That would be amazing for studying — they have lots of different drinks.”
Renken echoed these sentiments. She appreciated the fact that a local business is replacing a multinational chain.
“I'd much rather get Grit because I think they have better quality coffee,” she said. “Starbucks is a big chain that doesn't always give you good quality — it tastes different everywhere.”
When asked about the recent closures on and around Grounds, Hartch remained optimistic about the possibility of new businesses.
I’m sorry to see all of those restaurants close, but hopefully some interesting businesses will take their place,” Hartch said.