Businesses near NC State worried about another dip in customers with undergraduate classes moving online

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Business owners near NC State are expressing concern after the university announced it is moving all undergraduate classes online beginning Monday.

"This is a game of survival right now, and if we don't play the game, we're going to lose. Either landlords can work with us, the government can work with us. We've been unlucky with PPP loans so far. We didn't get in on the first round," said Nash Patton, a co-owner of Groucho's Deli on Horne Street.

Patton said the recent move-in weekend was one of busiest stretches they'd had since the pandemic began.

"We saw light at the tunnel," Patton explained.

Less than two weeks into the beginning of the semester, Patton feels that light has greatly dimmed, as the bulk of students and faculty shift to remote instruction.

"We're dependent on NC State. Without them, there is no us," Patton said.

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The financial stresses forced Patton and his co-owners to make a difficult decision about another location they owned.

"We had five prior to COVID, now we have four. We let go of one in order to keep the Raleigh store afloat," Patton said, adding that sales are down 50%.

Around the corner at Global Village Organic Coffee, owner Michael Ritchey said his sales are down 30%.

"The killer was really losing March, April, and May because we usually depend on those months to replenish the coffers to make it through the summer," said Ritchey.

Despite the hit, Ritchey is confident he will be able to avoid laying any employees off. To do that, he'll need greater support from the community to make up for decreased student and faculty traffic.

"I would ask them to consider coming down to Hillsborough Street (which is just as easy as) driving to Cameron Village, and frequent the businesses that are here. Because come next March or April, there needs to be community here," said Ritchey, who has been open for 20 years.

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"This is a chance for local residents to support and invest in our local community. Because if they eat in our restaurants that are locally-owned, that's investing in a neighbor and keeping that revenue in our city," added Jeff Murison, the President of the Hillsborough Street Community Service Corporation.

Murison highlights recent efforts to broaden the customer base of the area, noting new residential apartments, a hotel, and big-box stores that have widespread appeal.

"The pandemic has illustrated the need to diversify the market, to not just be a one-industry corridor. We've been doing that for a decade, and (had0 lots of success, but there's more to be done. And certainly the changes in the student behavior and university market just highlights that," said Murison.
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