Students flock to old haunts as Phase Two loosens restrictions

By Hattie LeFavour

Now in Phase 2, students are permitted to go into the town of Middlebury. (Van Barth)

When Middlebury transitioned to Phase Two last week, students were released from campus quarantine and allowed to traverse Addison County — and traverse they did. For some, their first destination was the mountains for a sunrise hike; for others, the liquor store to restock their dwindling beer supply. While some first years had their first taste of the downtown, off-campus seniors were finally allowed to buy their own groceries.

Many local businesses are glad to have Midd kids around town again, but all eyes are on the students to make sure guidelines are carefully followed.

“We cannot say this strongly enough: we are in a position to proceed to Phase Two because of how attentive and conscientious our students have been in complying with the health and safety mandates of Phase One,” read a Sept. 14 all-community email from President Laurie Patton, Dean of Students Derek Doucet and Director of Health Services Mark Peluso announcing the transition to Phase Two. 

For Taran Hopkins, a longtime employee of Middlebury Discount Beverage known colloquially among students as BevCo, the effects of Phase Two were immediate.

“Pretty much as soon as we opened in the morning, we were definitely hit with a huge wave of students. A lot of people were coming in to stock up on stuff before they had to go to their 11 a.m. classes,” Hopkins told The Campus. “I sold all of the Bud Light 30-packs that were in the store. Every single one. In a very, very short amount of time.” 

Hopkins also said that there was a run on White Claw hard seltzers and Keystone — and that students had been overwhelmingly attentive to Covid-19 guidelines. “Literally every student that we saw was abiding by the mask-wearing rule,” Hopkins said, noting that students were careful to keep their distance from others and to not loiter inside the shop for too long. “Everybody was very respectful.”

For many first years, Phase Two presented entirely new territory. Ashley Chimelis ’24, a new pole vaulter on the women’s track and field team, had never been into the town of Middlebury — nor had she met most of her teammates due to Phase One restrictions. On Sunday, Chimelis was able to leave campus for the first time since arrival to meet up with teammates for apple picking at Happy Valley Orchard and a meal at the A&W.

“It was really nice to get to meet the rest of the team — or a little piece of it,” Chimelis told The Campus. “Because it’s much more difficult nowadays, especially for first years who don’t even know where to start.” Like many other new students, she is looking forward to exploring more of Addison County in the coming weeks. “There are so many cool little Vermont places I’d like to go to,” she said. “I just want people to be very cautious.”

Otter Creek Bakery, a mainstay of Middlebury’s food scene, was ready to welcome students back with open arms — as long as they stayed outside. Since its reopening during pandemic, the shop has been operating from an outdoor no-contact ordering system, but lines still formed over the weekend for the bakery’s pastries and coffee.

“It’s been nice to see the college community back as part of the local Middlebury landscape,” said owner Ned Horton, who also reported that students had been consistently compliant of protocols. “Everybody’s been really nice and courteous, following the guidelines.”

Chiyo Sato, Otter Creek’s bakery manager, also told The Campus she was happy to have students back safely. “We have definitely noticed an increase of students walking around town and coming to visit the bakery,” Sato said. “It’s great to see Middlebury reviving itself while continuing to respect the guidelines like masks and social distancing.” 

For Elise Park ’21, one of the 85 students living off campus this semester, Phase Two meant finally being allowed to go to the grocery store. She and her housemates had been confined to their property and the campus for Phase One and had relied on Instacart grocery delivery for nearly a month. “I think being less dependent on a delivery service that can often be finicky and not very timely is always a huge plus,” Park said. “Also, [it’s nice] having a larger radius to travel in safely.”

While the Middlebury administration describes the transition to Phase Two as “slowly opening the spigot,” — a line stolen from Governor Scott’s state reopening plan — students flooded the downtown this past weekend. They have reportedly been safe and respectful so far, but as Ashley Chimelis said, “We’re only as safe as our least safe person.”