'If I was a senior I'd be crying': How coronavirus is changing life in Clemson
Clemson — The sidewalks and many parking spaces along College Ave. were empty on Monday morning – a rare sight for the downtown entertainment district just across the street from Clemson University.
Many restaurants and shops were closed or had cut back hours for the week, but not in response to the growing coronavirus pandemic, which claimed its first life in South Carolina Monday.
It's spring break – when life in Clemson slows down, every year.
But this year, it's what awaits residents and business owners after the break that has them wondering: On Sunday, the university extended all classes online and told students and non-essential employees not to return to campus until at least April 5.
"We're open this week, but we’ll play it by ear after that … we’ve got people who need to work," TD's Bar and Grill general manager Mete Tulbentci said Monday morning.
Businesses operating normally, but preparing for worst
On Monday, half a dozen business owners told the Greenville News and Independent Mail they weren't planning on altering their operational hours in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Those plans changed a day later, when Governor Henry McMaster issued an executive order that all South Carolina restaurants must close their dining rooms.
For the foreseeable future, no customers can dine-in, but delivery and take-out are encouraged, according to McMaster's briefing.
Closures and cancellations:How the Clemson-area is responding to the coronavirus outbreak
Sarah Hayes, who owns Jitters Coffee Company in Central, said she could get by on delivery and curbside orders, but had to send staff home until further notice.
"I'm prepared to close," she said Tuesday morning.
Not a restaurant, Clemson Variety and Frame downtown is still planning to stay open, according to employee Sharon O'Nan.
"Our business is student diplomas" she said, motioning to the customizable frames hung along the shop's ceiling. "Students notice us as they walk to and from campus, but they're not coming back for a while."
"The spring game was a big hit, the ring ceremony was a big hit. Usually those are nice bolsters to the community right before we go into the slow summertime," Clemson-Area Chamber of Commerce President Susan Cohen said.
In addition to the spring football game and ring ceremony, the Annual Spring Break Rowing Program, prospective student tours and area festivals have either been cancelled or postponed, Cohen said.
If COVID-19 spreads further and large-scale events continue to be cancelled into the summer, Cohen said the impact on local businesses "could be pretty devastating for a small university town anywhere, not just here."
To encourage year-round residents to frequent the shops, the city is offering three hours of free parking at the Keith Street downtown parking garage until at least April 6.
At Your Pie on Earle Street, owner Doug Zirbel worked to put some distance between things on Monday morning.
He'd moved all tables exactly six feet apart and cleared them of their napkin holders, red chili flake shakers and utensils. On the checkout counter, a tall, clear bottle labelled "CORONA KILLER" stood filled with neon-green gel.
"We made our own hand sanitizer with alcohol and aloe," Zirbel said.
In addition to the sanitary precautions, Your Pie added curbside pickup and is asking customers to pay through their app
"No handling of cash," Zirbel said.
The additions of take-out and delivery will come in handy – Zirbel's dining room is closed until further notice, per McMaster's order.
Just around the corner at Fizz Boutique, Allison Miles applied a bleach wipe to a package she received Monday morning.
"We're disinfecting every time we get a package."
The boutique is offering free shipping on online orders through March 31 and Miles is thinking of running fun social media promotions like, "Receive a free roll of toilet paper when you buy online."
"Not to make light of the situation, but just trying to drive sales that way," she told the News and Independent-Mail.
Cohen said residents can help local businesses out now to help with the potential long-term impact of the coronavirus, which was declared a national emergency by President Donald Trump last week.
"Buy Christmas presents in March. Like gift cards, things that could be used later but has a cash infusion to that business now."
Cohen and the chamber has created a live web page that lists local restaurants, businesses and municipalities and how they're responding to the pandemic.
'If I was a senior I'd be crying'
Clemson student Julia Moore spent the first day of her spring break browsing the racks at Entourage Boutique. She was the only customer in the store.
"It's eerie around here," the Greenville native said.
But Miles and other business owners are staying optimistic.
"We're going to ride this week out, but I heard that a lot of students are coming back anyway ... so that's where we're kind of operating from."
Moore agreed, saying many of her friends plan to return after spring break.
"I have a feeling everybody will come back, because most people I know from out of state don't want to be caught at home," she said.
Students who live in on-campus residences were told to stay home until at least April 5. Only students with "no other viable options" would be granted access to remain in residence halls, according to university officials.
But, off-campus Clemson students have a choice on whether to return to their apartments or wait COVID-19 out at home, Clemson junior Tyler McDougald said
"I think it'll really be a mixed bag," McDougald, who is staying in his off-campus apartment through April 5, said.
Moore said events and in-person classes being shut down for weeks is a blow to the college experience.
"If I was a senior, I'd be crying," the sophomore said.
But even with student life handicapped until April, McDougald said it's for the best.
"I think some people are disappointed, but I think most people understand the context in which this is happening. It's not as much of a concern about the individual as what's best for the community."
Zoe covers Clemson for The Greenville News and Independent Mail. Reach her at email@example.com or Twitter @zoenicholson_