Franklin Street businesses dread early departure of UNC students

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- There's a definite difference in the atmosphere along Chapel Hill's Franklin Street these days. Just ask Kenny Mann, Jr., leader of the band Liquid Pleasure with family roots in the college town that go back to its earliest days.

His said his band used to perform often at functions on and off the Carolina campus. But now, "We do about 110 shows a year. We've performed 4 times since March."

That's when coronavirus concerns disrupted many routines, and forced a shutdown of some struggling local businesses. Now, with UNC telling all undergraduates they're supposed to start distance learning Wednesday for safety, Mann is worried.

"Because the students make this town, man. They make this town and you can really see it," he said. "I go get coffee every morning, religiously. This morning I could have laid in the middle of the street and not get hit by a car until your truck drove up. "

That concern is shared by a man who's worked at two Franklin Street restaurants and felt the effects of fluctuating business in his hourly wage. He didn't want his face on camera but on the way to his current job told us, "We make our living off the students. And if they leave, it's going to hurt us."

We heard a similar perspective from Don Pinney, owner of Sutton's Drug Store. The iconic business still has longtime customers returning as they remain socially distant. But he told us the impending departure of students who can take classes from their hometowns could be the end for businesses who can't afford to stay closed much longer.

"We basically already had a six month summer. I don't think many businesses can continue to go. I'm lucky. My landlord is working with me, but other businesses are not in the same position as I am," Pinney said.
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