Businesses hope local economy improves as students return to campus

Julie+Twyman%2C+owner+of+Leeli+%26+Lou+in+Oxford%2C+has+re-opened+and+is+happy+to+have+student+customers+returning.

Photo by Mia Lee

Julie Twyman, owner of Leeli & Lou in Oxford, has re-opened and is happy to have student customers returning.

By Dan Wozniak and Mia Lee

Miami University’s decision to re-open the campus to students on Sept. 18 and restart face-to-face classes Sept. 21 was greeted with a mixture of relief and apprehension by public officials and business leaders in Oxford. While this will be beneficial for the local economy, there is concern about increasing the spread of COVID-19. 

The university could have faced financial losses if it had decided to continue with the campus shutdown and restricted classes to online. University President Gregory Crawford and Provost Jason Osborne insisted in university-wide emails, sent out Wednesday, that the health and well-being of the campus community were the driving factors behind the move to re-open.

Kelli Riggs, president of the Oxford Chamber of Commerce, said she believes the students’ return will make a significant positive impact on local businesses and she is pleased with the university’s decision.

“The pandemic has definitely taken a toll on our businesses,” Riggs said. “We’re very happy that (the students) are coming back and we hope that things can stay as normal as possible during this time as far as making sure that people follow the rules but yet go out to the local businesses.”

Riggs is working with local businesses to develop fall promotions to maximize their revenue before students leave Oxford for the semester in November.

Ann Kamphaus, owner of Books & Brews, 107 E. Church St., said she is excited for students, particularly freshmen, to move back to Oxford. She said the university’s decision will give her business an opportunity to grow.

“Hopefully (Books & Brews) can provide a place for freshmen to come and safely meet people,” Kamphaus said. “I would love to see some sense of normalcy come to the students here.”

Kamphaus said she has had no issues with students who live off-campus violating COVID-19 safe-distance measurements, and does not have any health concerns regarding the return of Miami students to the dorms.

“Every Miami student that comes to Books & Brews is very polite and wears their masks and follows the rules of social distancing,” Kamphaus said. “I know that (students) want to be here. They view Oxford as their home, and I think that we need to be welcoming to them, because this is our home too.”

Some local businesses, including Mac & Joe’s and Leeli & Lou, were forced to close temporarily in recent weeks when employees tested positive and were forced to quarantine. Most local businesses also experienced a sharp loss of business because of the absence of students.

Local businesses like Leeli & Lou hope the return of students will improve the local economy
Businesses hope return of students improves local economy. Photo by Mia Lee

“I didn’t want to be in the store covering all of those shifts when there was such a spike in cases. I came to find that a lot of the girls who I’ve employed (were) also in quarantine,” said Julie Twyman, owner of Leeli & Lou, 24 E. High St.  

Businesses now require customers and employees to be masked and to try to stay at least six feet apart to curb the spread of the virus. Several bars and restaurants have increased their outdoor seating options and many have enlarged their take-out operations.  

However, some businesses aren’t doing as well as others, said Kim Daggy, executive director of Enjoy Oxford.

“In general, the loss of events, athletics and tournaments as well as limiting the capacity for museums and performing arts have resulted in an economic downturn for our community,” she said. “There has been less day travel and overnight visitors.” 

Oxford City Council Member David Prytherch said he believes the Miami students will be able to have a safe experience in Oxford without jeopardizing the health and safety of the community if they follow COVID-19 safety measures. But, Prytherch also said he recognizes the challenges the decision presents to both the university and the city. Prytherch, a professor of geography at Miami, proposed Oxford’s mass gathering ordinance in August, which prohibits gatherings of more than 10 non-household members within the city of Oxford.

City Council Member Jason Bracken does not support the university’s decision. Bracken, a doctoral candidate in ecology, evolution and environmental biology at Miami, strongly favored the passing of the mass-gathering ordinance and urges students to follow the existing COVID-19 safety mandates.

“I think COVID is already quite prevalent, and that the university’s decision will help increase the spread even further,” Bracken said. “We have to find a way to keep the student-spread, which seems to be rampant, from becoming community spread, and there are not easy ways to do that.”

As of Sept. 9, there were 1,026 active student COVID-19 cases reported in the previous 14 days, according to Miami’s COVID-19 dashboard. Since Aug. 26, there has been an 88% increase in cases among students.