October 28, 2021

Early exit of SUNY students concerns merchants

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Isabella Rizzotti makes a sandwich Thursday at New York Bagel and Deli in Cortland. Businesses are wary as SUNY Cortland students are allowed to leave campus early, because of what that may mean for business.

Isabella Rizzotti and Jemma Wegzyn quietly made drinks and sandwiches Thursday at New York Bagel and Deli in Cortland.

The coffee shop on Matin Street is a favorite among SUNY Cortland students, about half its customers, said owner Sandro Mironti.

But following the college’s announcement earlier this week to go completely remote for the rest of the semester and allow students who test negative for COVID-19 to leave, business owners face uncertainty for what this might mean for them.

“Having them leave is definitely going to hurt financially,” Mironti said.

As of Thursday, 609 positive cases have been reported among SUNY Cortland students and staff since the beginning of the fall semester, with 569 recovered cases and 40 active, according to the school’s COVID-19 tracker.

Countywide, 884 positive cases have been reported since the pandemic began, but more than 790 of them just since students returned in late August, reports the Cortland County Health Department. One person has died.

Still, losing the students early could also affect his 16 employees, about half of whom, like Rizzotti, are college students, Mironti said.

Hei was hopeful, though, as he’s heard talk of some off-campus students who might stick around Cortland.

The end of the year, he said, will be time for the business to evaluate its operating costs and see if there may need to be changes to adjust to fewer customers.

“We’re hoping there is enough local business that come out and support the small, local businesses,” he said.

Mironti also said that he hoped he wouldn’t have to cut any of his other, non-student employees.

Robby Petrella, owner of Brix Pubaria, said that he initially wasn’t happy about students leaving for the semester, but with recent spikes in COVID cases, including with college students, he hoped the move may help get the spread under control.

“Right now, the consumer is fearful of the virus, fearful of the perceived careless behavior of the students,” he said. “I believe families are tightening their wallets right now.”

The last couple of weeks have seen a reduction in business for the restaurant because of the fears, he said.

Unlike some other restaurants, though, Brix has always had takeout and delivery options, which have become more popular since the pandemic began, Petrella said.

Along with that, the restaurant has worked to cater delivery to the customers’ needs, letting them decide on how they would like their food delivered to ensure safety.

But while the restaurant received stimulus funding earlier in the year, no new rounds of funding have meant Petrella’s employees work fewer hours.

For now, both businesses will look to see what happens in terms of the virus and the number of customers coming through their doors.

“What COVID has forced us to do is be a little more free flowing and reactive,” Petrella said.