The Corner is not the same anymore. Over the past two years, the pandemic has altered the landscape of this bustling center of student activity, forcing multiple small businesses that have served the University community for decades to permanently close their doors. Even now, with continued unemployment concerns and rising estate prices, closures remain a threat for local businesses on the Corner. The University should support local businesses as they add diversity and excitement to its community and Charlottesville.
One must first understand the historical significance of the Corner to appreciate the irreplaceable diversity, accessibility, and entertainment it brings to this University. Back in 1890, students began referring to the area where the main entrance to Grounds met the Charlottesville community as “the Corner,” as it was literally a street corner. When The Virginian opened in 1923, its ad stated “conveniently located above the Corner.” Other upcoming shop and restaurant owners quickly followed suit in adopting the same message of accessibility. While the Corner is five blocks long today, it remains a convenient and thriving center for social gatherings. From barber shops and drugstores to food and bookstores, local business owners bring Charlottesville’s authenticity to students. Such integral members of our community should not be so easily replaced.
The recent series of closures on the Corner — both classic shops and new businesses alike — leave space for larger corporations to threaten the well-being of students. Case in point is the replacement of The Juice Laundry with Carytown Tobacco — a growing chain store that sells vape and tobacco products. Replacing a juice shop centered around health and wellness with a store that sells tobacco and nicotine could be detrimental to the health of students and risks bringing the University further away from the goal of becoming a smoke-free campus. The recent replacement of Cohn’s, a long-standing convenience store staple, with 7Day, a chain store that also sells vape and tobacco products, only worsens this risk. If this University truly wishes to “provide care for and promote the well-being of [its] students,” it must take measures to support local businesses that add instead of detract to student health.
On paper, the Corner is not technically on-Grounds. As a gathering place for the University community, however, it deserves the same attention and support. When iconic stores such as College Inn and Sheetz closed down due to impacts of the pandemic, students lost not only affordability and accessibility, but also chances to witness the local spirit of the Corner that has long defined our University’s student experience. Furthermore, with rising real estate costs, small business owners are at a monetary disadvantage compared to large chain stores that can more easily bounce back from the pandemic’s economic downturn. While the latter are popular and deserve some representation, they speak for little of Charlottesville's local culture. Preserving classic Corner shops can establish more enriching and memorable student experiences representative of what the University and larger Charlottesville community has to offer.
The University has many avenues to achieve the goal of preserving the local spirit of the Corner. For starters, promoting Corner employment opportunities at job fairs and through school-wide communications can not only help solve the unemployment crisis caused by the pandemic, but also help students themselves in developing real-world skills and earning income. While it may be difficult to directly subsidize small businesses in the form of discounts, University administration and student leaders can find other ways of monetary support through allocating underutilized Student Council fees to allow CIOs to cater food from the Corner, effectively increasing student engagement as well. There are plenty of ways to strengthen the relationship between local businesses and the University. University leaders need only care enough to get creative.
When I am a fourth-year, I hope I can look back and feel truly connected to this community. I know my time will probably not be defined by that one biology test — which is already being repressed — but rather, who I spend that time with and where. The businesses on the Corner that we enjoy today should be able to thrive during our time at this University. The Corner can still be the perfect place for student life and the celebration of local Charlottesville culture, if the University acknowledges its importance and encourages students to give back to it.
Songhan Pang is a Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.