During a typical year, the shift that downtown State College workers experience between summer and fall includes a dip in demand.
However, the additional pressure of a statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses in March and the danger of a highly contagious disease has only added to declining demand.
Joy Rodgers-Mernin, who has owned and worked for The Nittany Quill since 1984, reopened on May 8, but noted that the summer was “strange.”
Having worked at The Nittany Quill for 36 years, Rodgers-Mernin reflected on previous shifts she has seen in the community.
She said she watched as the Nittany Mall opened its doors and the trend for people to shop out of town became popular, later witnessing the rising popularity of Amazon and online shopping.
Given its downtown location, Rodgers-Mernin said whether they’re students, attending conferences or touring the campus, her customers are somehow always related to Penn State.
Though enough locals trickled in during the summer to keep her doors open, Rodgers-Mernin said the lack of customers coming downtown to dine at restaurants and shop has indirectly affected her own business.
“We are, as a group, very dependent on each other,” Rodgers-Mernin said. “It's really important that as a group, we get through this. It's not an individual thing.”
Mitchell Pensak, who has worked at McLanahan’s Downtown Market since his freshman year at Penn State, said the working environment downtown in the summer as compared to the fall are “completely different animals.”
Although McLanahan’s tends to be packed with students and families in the fall, Pensak (senior-civil engineering) said more locals show up at the store in the summer.
The biggest challenge, he said, is overcoming boredom.
“You go from days where you're doing nothing at all, you're just sitting at the register or even just stocking, and you wouldn't see a soul for hours on end,” Pensak said.
However, Pensak also said boredom in the time of a global pandemic was “comforting,” as it alleviated his concerns of spreading the disease to others.
Penn State students have been working part time at restaurants in downtown State College thr…
Stephanie Hutton, the manager of Ikonic Ink Tattoo & Piercing Studio, said there is typically an equal distribution of demand from students and locals throughout the summer and the fall.
While locals do venture into the store during the fall, Hutton said more locals historically tend to schedule when classes are not in session.
This summer, though, Ikonic Ink Tattoo & Piercing Studio closed because of the coronavirus.
Hutton said most of the employees who work in the studio are 1099 employees, meaning they don’t follow normal employment classification rules, like people who are independent contractors.
Though they were able to file for unemployment, the process was more complicated than it would be for more conventional workers.
A 1099 employee is an independent contractor who works under their own guidance, unlike a permanent worker who takes direction from a company, according to UpCounsel, a legal platform that aims to help businesses build their own legal terms.
Despite some returning students’ irresponsibility in regard to properly social distancing and seeing the numbers of positive coronavirus cases increase, Hutton said the return of students this fall was an economic necessity for many small businesses in the area.
Similarly, Rachel Campbell, the general manager at Duck Donuts, explained that coming back to work full-time after having a baby in April makes her “nervous” at the possibility of bringing the disease home.
“It’s a little scary,” Campbell said, “but we're taking every precaution we can at our store and trying to make sure that our customers are safe, our employees are safe.”
Campbell said Duck Donuts usually experiences a dip in demand during the summer, as a mix of students continue to pass through its register during weekdays and more locals come in during weekends, but the coronavirus disrupted demand much more significantly.
“[The coronavirus] definitely affected our sales,” Campbell said. “People not shopping at local businesses and seeing our sign and stopping in for a day — it affected us a lot.”
The small store tucked on the side of Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza continued to operate mostly via takeout and curbside delivery Thursday through Sunday throughout the summer.
However, Campbell said the store re-opened on Aug. 17 with shortened hours as Duck Donuts continues to see a shortfall in demand compared to last fall and takes precaution in enforcing social distancing guidelines.