In small-town Oxford, COVID-19 and Miami students have big implications for local businesses

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Posted at 11:02 PM, Oct 14, 2020

OXFORD, Ohio — Ohio now has the country’s fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases in colleges, and on the campus of Miami University, one out of every 10 students has tested positive for the virus, according to data released by the school Wednesday.

For a small town like Oxford, business owners said that has big implications for local shops. Already hit hard by the first wave of the pandemic, Oxford businesses are now bracing for a second wave of a different nature.

Mona Kerby, co-owner of Attitudes Uptown, said business is still down. Many folks in town are still uncomfortable visiting a salon during the pandemic, but she said Miami students give them a big cut of business.

“They’ve already been exposed to (coronavirus), so they’re not afraid of anything,” she observed. “They just want it to go away."

The roughly 22,000 residents of Oxford see the population almost double as about 19,000 students arrive when school is in session, and these businesses feel it.

“We wouldn’t have half of what we have here if it wasn’t for them. Certainly, there wouldn’t be bars on every corner, that’s for sure,” Kerby said.

Jessica Greene, Oxford’s assistant city manager, said those businesses are what make Oxford Oxford.

“March took us, all of us, by surprise. One day business was booming. Next day we’re shutting down. It was really scary for everyone,” she said. “When things were closed, a lot of our businesses – restaurants, bars, and hair salons, All these locally owned places we’re so proud of – we really started immediately looking into what we could do to help.”

Now, Greene said, the city is doing what it can to help, including rent and utility assistance.

“So many creative responses,” she said. “We as a city have done outdoor dining tables. We’ve allowed people to come out in the sidewalk.”

Around town, signs point to wearing masks. Businesses take proactive steps by adding reservations and asking customers to call ahead before entering.

These business owners said they aren’t concerned about the 10% of the Miami student body testing positive for COVID-19. In a university statement Wednesday, officials explained that the statistic is due in part to its “targeted testing strategy.”

Looking ahead to winter, officials and owners wonder how businesses will survive when students leave for Thanksgiving, not returning until 2021.

“We need those college kids,” said Nikki Buell, manager at Attitudes. “That’s their bread and butter here. Now they’re going to be gone an extra three weeks. That’s nine weeks they’ll be gone and these young girls are going to be sitting doing nothing. Not making an income.”

Now, more than ever, the focus remains on supporting local businesses.

“It’s not just buying a sandwich. It’s not just buying a slice of pizza. It’s that person has a job because you are supporting a local business," Greene said.