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Some local businesses are concerned about the loss of customers as Halifax universities move most of their fall courses online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It means thousands of new students who usually move to the city every year likely won’t be around to study in coffee shops or spend money at restaurants and retail stores.
Dan MacDonald, the owner of Bookmark on Spring Garden Road, said his shop typically does “very good” business with students given its proximity to universities and other downtown businesses.
But he has a feeling that’s going to change. “It’s not going to be pretty,” he said.
It’s an issue that’s been acknowledged in discussions with staff, he said, but he hasn’t had time to dwell on it with Bookmark’s Halifax location set to reopen to the public on Monday.
The bookstore has done well with online orders in recent months, offering curbside pickup and delivery since the province announced a state of emergency in response to the virus.
Many of the student shoppers at Bookmark are avid readers, but MacDonald said they also buy school supplies there like notebooks, planners and pens.
The shop also typically hosts events with authors, which draw big crowds and lead to more sales, but MacDonald anticipates there won’t be a single event for the duration of 2020.
“That’s gonna be significant,” he said.
Kelly Irvine, the owner and operator of Coburg Social, a bar and café near Dalhousie University, said revenue typically increases by about 40 per cent when university students come back to town.
“We’re anticipating it’s gonna be a rough fall,” Irvine said.
But even getting through the summer will be challenging. In previous years, Dalhousie hosted a number of summer conferences and visitors would often stay on campus.
“We rely on Dal as well in the summer…. That’s always been a big part of our business,” she said.
The business’s revenue is down 80 per cent since it moved to a takeout-only model, and Irvine said she doesn’t see that going up “hugely” despite their small outdoor patio space having reopened on Friday.
Irvine said she’d like the city to close some streets to traffic, allowing restaurants to use the space to increase capacity while allowing physical distancing, a move already being considered in some Maritime cities.
There is an “active conversation” among council members about how the city can adapt spaces to help businesses in the wake of COVID-19, said Paul MacKinnon, CEO of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission.
The loss of incoming students is one of many concerns for the commission, MacKinnon said, including what the tourism season will look like.
But MacKinnon said he hopes the number of students no longer coming to Nova Scotia to study will be offset by the number of Nova Scotia students opting to stay in the province.
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