After staffing and supply chain issues that persisted once the pandemic began in spring 2020, businesses in downtown Chapel Hill are bouncing back.
Jeff Hortman, co-owner of Carolina Coffee Shop on Franklin Street, said in an email that his experienced staff helped the company adapt to changing regulations and safety standards. With the slow, cautioned reopening of restaurants in late February, Hortman said his business saw a surprising turnaround.
“We opened in a limited capacity according to local guidelines and focused on safety of employees and patrons,” Hortman said. “We were a bit surprised to find a decent amount of business during this time, but it was mostly from local residents rather than students.”
Now, with students and campus tours back, Hortman said the Carolina Coffee Shop has seen a return to pre-pandemic visitor levels.
In June 2020, Chapel Hill began encouraging sidewalk dining as a means to recover business strength downtown. Bret Oliverio, the owner of Sup Dogs, said creating outdoor seating as early as possible was key to his company’s success early in 2021.
“At that time, I think the community and the students that were in town were way more comfortable dining outdoors, so we added as much outdoor seating as possible,” Oliverio said. “But January 2021 was definitely a rough month.”
Four Corners owner Kristian Bawcom said the Town’s emphasis on outdoor seating has helped keep his company afloat this year.
“It was a game changer for us because people who weren’t comfortable going inside had a place to sit outside and watch a football game or listen to music on a nice day or in the evening grab dinner," Bawcom said. "The Town of Chapel Hill really stepped up in helping assist us. Otherwise, I don’t know if we would’ve made it.”
Bawcom also said he experienced a strange success this spring, when students who stayed in Chapel Hill felt they could return to restaurants and did not have the option of on-campus dining halls.