Local business takes hit from mandated closures and quarantined public

By BENJAMIN GLASS and LUCY TOWNEND

BENJY RENTON
Businesses on Main Street and across town have been confronted with major roadblocks this past week due the outbreak of Covid-19. All restaurants in town were forced to halt dining services on Tuesday by a state mandate, and many retailers have seen a sharp decline in customer sales.

It was the same message, again and again: this is going to hurt. 

Town businesses are now floundering amid the outbreak of Covid-19 in Vermont — and most recently in Addison County — triggering responses from the state government and from local institutions. Middlebury College’s decision to transition to remote-learning after an extended March break has sent many potential customers packing, interrupting the normal flow of business. Local events and gatherings have also been cancelled en masse, creating unprecedented disruptions to the town’s commerce.

Take-out only

On Monday, Governor Phil Scott ordered all restaurants and bars across the state to close by Tuesday afternoon. Many restaurants in Middlebury are now under financial pressure in the face of these mandated closures.

“We’re going through a mass layoff,” Nate Davis of The Mad Taco told The Campus in a phone interview Wednesday night. “We offered all of our staff unemployment. We took out a payroll loan in the chance that further layoffs occur.” 

We’re going through a mass layoff. We offered all of our staff unemployment. We took out a payroll loan in the chance that further layoffs occur.”

— Nate Davis, The Mad Taco

The Mad Taco, which opened last November, offered its employees a return date of April 6, but Davis believes the closure will last longer. 

“Covid-19 has affected us dramatically,” Davis said. “We are wearing gloves, we’re wearing face protection — business has dropped off significantly.” 

Mad Taco moved to a take-out only service, which is permitted under Scott’s shutdown, as of 6 p.m. on Sunday. This allows local businesses to continue their operations while mitigating  the health risks employees may face during the outbreak. 

For anyone looking to order from local restaurants in the coming weeks, Davis has a few pieces of advice: “If you’re going to call into any restaurant, Mad Taco or otherwise, pay over the phone with a card,” he said, suggesting patrons wait outside and call the restaurant when they arrive. “The less contact points, the better off we all are.” 

The Arcadian, Haymaker Bun Company, Sabai Sabai Thai and American Flatbread all announced on Wednesday that they will also be closing their dining rooms and will move to take-out service only. Among these cancellations, the Middlebury Farmers Market announced on Facebook that it plans to host its outdoor market on Saturday per usual, from 9–12:30 p.m at the Exchange Street location. 

Open this Saturday 3/21Same Place, Same TimeJust Outdoors. Swing through for a quick re-supply of local nutritionVFW 9:00-12:30

Posted by Middlebury Farmers' Market on Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Empty rooms expected

Although recent state regulations have yet to target the hospitality industry, Middlebury Inn General Manager John Zahn made it clear that the regulatory impact has spilled over into his sector. The Middlebury Inn closed in-person dining services at Morgan’s Tavern, the restaurant attached to the Inn, earlier this week, although it allowed customers to order food to their rooms. 

Zahn said that with the closure of Morgan’s Tavern, lots of employees lost hours of work. “We’re hoping the ban doesn’t go past April 6,” he said. “We are trying to help [our employees] as much as possible.”

The inn is still offering rooms as usual, according to Zahn. Although the spring time is not their busiest season, Zahn noted that the inn receives lots of business from college parents travelling to and from athletic events, as well as for graduation in May. Zahn expects to lose customers due to the outbreak. 

“It is very painful for our business, but our owners are committed and they want to do what’s right for the community and what’s right for employees,” he said. “We’ll just try to survive and hope the government helps with low interest loans.”

Zahn said that the outbreak of Covid-19 has been one of the most drastic events to the hospitality industry in his lifetime, along with the Gulf War and the fallout from the September 11 terrorist attacks. “I’m hoping that this is more short-term than those were,” he said. 

Quiet aisles

Middlebury’s retail businesses also expect to suffer a lack of customers. Neat Repeats on Route 7 announced on Monday that it will be closed until the end of the month. The Makery, located at Hannafords Market, announced it would be closed until further notice as well. 

Middlebury Discount Beverage owner Joe Cotroneo said in an interview last week that although he is lucky to have a mix of town and college customers, many retailers in town rely heavily on college patrons to support their businesses. 

 “With the months of April and May without sports, and without parents coming up on the weekend, that will be huge for some businesses that rely on just college business,” he said. 

 Dan McIntosh, owner of Forth N’ Goal on Main Street, told The Campus that the store will remain open unless forced to close. 

“Sales will be down,” McIntosh said. “We are seeing lots of internet sales on our MiddleburyShop.com website, and it seems like maybe some parents or alumni who aren’t coming to town are shopping on our website. Hopefully, that will help us stay in business.” 

For McIntosh, his biggest worry is the potential cancellation of Middlebury’s summer programs. 

“The summer school is the most important piece of money that comes to the town of Middlebury during the whole year,” McIntosh said. “The summer school spends more money than the regular school — they come into town. They eat at the restaurants.” 

Middlebury College has not announced any plans to cancel the 2020 Summer Language School session.

Performances postponed

Events spaces hosting events, pop-up stores and workshops, such as Bundle, have seen major cancellations and postponements for the month of March and April. Carrie Root, a local stain glass artist and Bundle’s interim-manager, says that the event-space non-profit began canceling events last week. This included her series of stained-glass workshops that was set to be held this Friday. 

“Last week, I had to call it,” Root said. “Financially, it was a real hit,” she said, mentioning that she runs workshops after the holiday season due to slow sales. 

A Middlebury College musician and high school student performers were among the Bundle cancellations. For an organization that books events 60 days out, Root said that management will have to wait to see what the outbreak does before they can reschedule events. 

“The premise of Bundle is to connect community members and businesses, which is something that can’t happen right now,” she said. “We hope to come back when this is all over and still support small businesses and artists and the local community.”

For a complete list of Middlebury Businesses and their current status, visit experiencemiddlebury.org.