On Thursday, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu issued all non-essential businesses to close in order to permit the spread of COVID-19. At the time of this writing, New Hampshire has over 150 positive cases.
Sununu’s initiative comes a week after students at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) were ordered by President James Dean Jr. to finish the rest of the semester online and to move out of the dorms by March 30.
Both of these directives are expected to hit Durham businesses hard, and has already closed Wildcat Fitness.
Durham’s downtown consists of a strip of a few restaurants, hair salons and bars. According to the director of the Durham Business Association (DBA), Katie Muth, the last couple months of the spring semester are “usually good business months” for Durham as the town prepares for a summer without students.
“We help promote businesses, special events, promote through social media,” Muth said about DBA’s efforts to help the Durham businesses. JP’s Grill, Durham House of Pizza and Young’s are among a few of the restaurants that are part of the DBA. “I have never seen anything like this in Durham, nobody has seen anything like this. It may drive people to close because they are paying for utilities and employees and trying to stay open.”
Muth said that many of the businesses in Durham have already reached out and have been in “constant” contact with the DBA on their next steps amid COVID-19.
Wildcat Fitness, a gym located in the plaza on Mill Road, closed its doors last Thursday as result of temporarily closing for coronavirus.
“It is fitting that we opened in 2008 during a financial crisis, and now, 12 years later, we are closed during a crisis that affects the very essence of what we stand for in terms of promoting good health,” Wildcat Fitness’s website reads. “The CDC recommendation of discouraging gatherings of 10 people or more, and yesterday’s [last week] announcement that the university community will be staying away from Durham until at least mid-May lead to our decision to close as soon as possible to flatten the curve.”
Because of the uncertainty of the virus and not knowing when the pandemic will end, Wildcat Fitness explained that they are choosing not to re-open due to “economic implications” that could affect them in the long-run.
The Big Bean, which opened in Durham in September, has switched to take-out or curbside delivery only with limited hours from Thursday to Saturday, according to their social media. This comes after extending their hours after the winter season and adding a happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. JP’s Grill, around the corner from The Big Bean, has switched to curbside pickup and delivery.
Breaking New Grounds (BNG) has been a staple in Durham for the past 21 years and is currently still roasting coffee beans and serving take-out coffee during their regular hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., according to owner Todd Govoni.
“We will remain open for customers that want to come in for take-out and they can feel comfortable that we are adhering to strict cleaning guidelines,” Govoni said, adding that 95 percent of their staff are UNH students and 50 percent of their customers are Durham residents aside from the regular student crowd that they receive.
However, a coffee and food cart that is located on campus near Horton Hall, Rrramons’ Food and Coffee Cart, has completely cut their hours in half and are only open from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., because of the changes the university has made – “98 percent” of their business is from UNH students.
“As far as having a plan in place, we really can’t,” Kristin Valdez, who co-owns the food truck with her husband, Ramon, said. “We have to go by what the university is doing and go day by day.”
Valdez said to help local shops by following them on social media to see if they are doing take-out or delivery.
Muth feels that the Durham businesses will “pull through” despite a difficult couple of months that are in order and urges townspeople to “buy gift cards” to use at a later date, but to help the stores now. Govoni agrees about the purchase of gift cards and suggests for BNG members to shop on the store’s website to buy coffee beans that can be shipped to their door.
“It certainly seems to help with stopping the spread of the virus and a logical solution to support social distancing,” Valdez said. “As tough as it is to deal with, it’s necessary.”