Nicholas Milazzo ’18.5 started a GoFundMe campaign on March 21 in an effort to provide financial support to Middlebury restaurants impacted by Vermont’s Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent closure of non-essential businesses. So far, Milazzo has raised $8,000 in donations for five local eateries, including the Old Stone Mill, Royal Oak Coffee, Fire & Ice, Costello’s Market and Magic Wok.
Milazzo was living in Burlington, Vt. this spring, but decided to move back to Middlebury for the duration of the shelter-in-place order. He said in an interview with The Campus that he established the fundraiser as a way to provide relief for the Middlebury community while also heeding social distancing measures.
Milazzo began organizing the fundraiser by compiling a list of the restaurants in Middlebury and contacting each of them to assess their individual need. Some had reassuring replies and indicated that they could withstand temporary closures or drops in sales, but others responded by saying that there was a “legitimate chance” that they could permanently go out of business.
Currently, Milazzo plans to allocate the money raised among the five locally owned businesses. Of these businesses, he pointed out that Royal Oak Coffee — an independent coffee shop in Middlebury — is especially vulnerable since it is a relatively new establishment. “I was a science major, and the way I think of it is most biological systems die in their infancy,” he said. “Once you get through the first couple years, that’s when things start to stabilize, and you can take bigger hits. But these little seedlings of restaurants, they have the hardest time.”
Among local businesses, restaurants are especially impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, according to Milazzo. Local restaurants operate on narrow profit margins, as they “pay expenses that don’t really produce returns until the future” — profits that are deferred even further if the business closes temporarily. “Most of what they do isn’t conducive to ever pressing pause,” Milazzo said. “And restaurants come and go in Middlebury regardless. It’s just a rough market.”
Milazzo said that his goal was to extend the grace period for restaurants as they weather the storm of Covid-19-related closures. “I figured looking at those most vulnerable restaurants and supporting them and boosting their bottom line and giving them an extra two weeks, if that’s the most we can do … That’s the goal,” he said.
Milazzo’s monetary goal is to raise a total of $50,000, accumulating as many donations as possible to provide a buffer if worse comes to worst for local businesses. However, he has yet to determine how donations will be divided and dispensed to these establishments. “Fortunately, we’re not seeing restaurants dying right now, so we have a little bit of time to figure it out — how we allocate and who can make it,” he said.
Fond memories during his time at Middlebury College are a large part of what motivated Milazzo to launch this fundraiser. He recalled taking breaks from the dining halls and going out to local restaurants on special occasions, such as when his friends would come into town or when his family visited for Fall Family Weekend. He maintains that revisiting the places that contribute to Middlebury’s charm and seeing a thriving town is “in some ways as much of the enjoyment of returning as seeing the campus.”
The alumnus wants readers of The Campus to reflect on the role local restaurants play in their positive memories of the college. “The value of food is kind of hard to overstate,” Milazzo said. “One day, you’ll return to Middlebury, and your favorite restaurant might not be there. If that’s going to be the case, is that something you can deal with, or do you want to do what you can to make sure that other students can enjoy the things that you got to enjoy?”
Milazzo encourages students and members of the wider Middlebury community to “do all they can” to contribute to solutions. “Ultimately, if for no other reason than the fact that you’ve demonstrated as a student or a member of the Middlebury College community that you value the town of Middlebury, just that gesture has value,” Milazzo said. “Even if it’s only a couple dollars, or even if we’re only able to help one place, it’s just about doing everything you can.”
Editor’s note: Consider donating to Milazzo’s GoFundMe Campaign.