by Erin Papakostas ’23
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has left most of the world in a frenzy, trying to render a new strategy for these unprecedented circumstances. The Town of Davidson is no different. Since most Davidson College students have deserted campus for their hometowns, and most of the town’s citizens are practicing social distancing, Main Street is significantly more empty. Local restaurants and shops have been hit hard by the decline in business.
The Stay at Home Order for Mecklenburg County began the morning of March 26th and requires, according to the Town of Davidson’s website, “all Mecklenburg County [residents] to shelter at home and limit movements outside of their homes beyond essential needs.” Additionally, a few days later Governor Roy Cooper issued Executive Order No.121, a Stay at Home Order for North Carolina, which went into effect on Monday, March 30th. The order allows for operation of “restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for consumption off-premises, through such means as in-house delivery, third party delivery, drive-through, curbside pick-up, and carry-out.”
Katy Kindred, owner of Kindred Restaurant, has a realistic approach to the situation. “It truly is a day-by-day situation right now. Within a couple days of the forced closure, we built a contact-free online ordering system. We also shut down Hello, Sailor and moved what team we had left to Kindred to lower our overhead.”
Kindred explained how the restaurant’s actions aimed to benefit their employees. “The day before the forced closure we saw the writing on the wall, so we quickly reached out to our team to lay them off. It seems counterintuitive, but acting quickly got them to the head of the line for unemployment (before the deluge) and meant they still had their last check on the way from us while they were waiting for unemployment to come. It was the best solution for the work circumstance. We are still accepting gratuities which are being split amongst all our laid off, full-time employees.”
Brian Helfrich ‘07, CEO of Summit Coffee Co., also recognized the need to quickly reevaluate the coffee shop’s future.
“When the crisis really came to head in mid-March, we were put on our heels a bit––like most businesses, I think, especially small businesses. When the Outpost had to close because students were leaving campus, it forced us to reevaluate what the next six months may look like. And we considered shutting our cafés down, laying off staff, and it was a pretty depressing exercise. So we focused, instead, on how to creatively navigate a crisis,” Helfrich commented.
The crisis has encouraged businesses to come up with innovative solutions. Helfrich said, “The biggest breakthrough from a business standpoint was working with the Town of Davidson and developers to turn the old Wells Fargo drive-through on Main Street into a temporary Summit. Then, we collaborated with Kindred to sell milk bread donuts. I figured, while there were countless stories of people losing jobs and businesses closing doors, offering a positive story would get us some news coverage and social media buzz. And it did.” The owners of The Famous Toastery own the drive-through and allowed it to be repurposed to sell donut take-out.
Kindred added, “We’re making thousands of milk bread donuts a week that we are selling from there. It’s been a crazy shift, but we’re adapting.”
Elizabeth Miller ‘20 now runs trivia night for Davidson College students on Wednesdays at 8:30pm EST on Zoom. Mia Pungello ‘23, a Wednesday night trivia regular at Summit Outpost, commented, “I think it’s important to keep as many of the social parts of school alive as we can, because it’s important to still get that interaction and see people’s faces since we already have to miss so much by not being on campus. Keeping up some of the little traditions helps it feel a little less lonely.”
Sarah Woods ‘21 worked at Outpost during the school year, and when Davidson closed, she asked her boss if she could work at Summit on Main Street. She now works at Basecamp and at the drive-through, which is open 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.. According to Woods, Summit is not losing business; they are making new business. Woods added that her boss, Brian Helfrich, gave all employees the option not to work during this time if they feel uncomfortable, but said they can expect their jobs back when everything returns to normal. Because of this, Woods has picked up more work hours.
Woods said on the first day the drive-through opened, they sold out in fifteen minutes. Ever since, there has been a steady flow of customers, especially on the weekends. During the first week, people from Charlotte came to Davidson to support the new business. Since then, Summit has gained more attention through Instagram: “All the people care a lot about local business and have the resources to support them,” Woods commented.
Helfrich explained the practical changes Summit has developed to comply with health precautions. Now, Summit relies on to-go ordering, accepts only contactless transactions as payment, and has switched to mobile ordering.
“We also made a big e-commerce push, identifying people who’ve purchased coffee from us in the last three years and targeting them with some promotions. To date, we haven’t had to lay off any employees and are really thankful that the Davidson community has rallied around us,” Helfrich said.