Though Ball State students and the business they bring to Muncie have returned, businesses in the Village are still feeling the stress of statewide quarantine mandates and the extended summer brought on by the university’s early dismissal last semester.
“It’s gotten to the point that about three weeks ago, I had to fill out the COVID relief paperwork to the state to try to get some grant money because I don't think I can keep [the business] going without it,” said Village Green Records owner Travis Harvey.
Businesses that rely primarily on face-to-face contact, like Village Green Records, have suffered significantly without a steady stream of customers coming into the stores.
Harvey said his store shut down all in-person contact with customers March 15 voluntarily as he and his staff “were kind of anticipating things getting worse.”
“Every month, I've been losing about 55 to 65 percent of my usual sales from the previous months and year, respectively, and it's been pretty brutal,” he said.
To remain afloat during the economic downturn, Harvey said his business has had to be creative with finding new ways to make money.
Using the online fundraising site Patreon, Harvey said he is still trying to provide the in-person record store experience via a subscription model. Customers can buy a monthly subscription to the store from a $5 tip up to a $300 variety package of records and merchandise based on the customer’s music preferences.
The page has garnered 90 monthly subscribers, but Harvey said Patreon alone is not enough to make up for his financial losses.
“Even with the Patreon, it’s still only equal to about two really good Saturday sales, and that covers a whole month,” Harvey said. “So, if you're thinking like two good Saturdays from this whole program [can make up for the losses], there's still 28 more days in the month.”
Village restaurant Hoku Poke is experiencing a similar financial situation. Server and Ball State senior psychology major Sailor Canfield said Hoku Poke may not be able to survive another lockdown without business.
The restaurant, Canfield said, was closed for three months, extending the already-slow summer, a time during which Village businesses lose the support of Ball State students.
“I feel like in the Village, if you don't own a smoke shop or you don't sell alcohol, you're not going to thrive, exactly, so you can just make the bare minimum here,” Canfield said.
Canfield added that the number of employees was reduced to two, and prices were raised for two of the months during the lockdown.
Another local business, the Art Mart, is facing a similar problem. Owner Karen Fisher said her business was closed from mid-March to mid-June.
“[Students coming] back to school is going to make a big difference for us,” Fisher said. “It’s probably going to be the determiner of whether we'll be able to continue in business or not.”
Unlike Village Green Records, the Art Mart has continued in-person business after it was allowed to re-open. The way the store operates, Fisher said, has been modified to reflect current social distancing and hygienic procedures.
“We never wore masks in the store before,” she said. “We never cleaned between every customer. We never had anyone sitting at the door counting the people that came into the store to make sure that we weren't over our capacity.”
Fisher said she was conflicted about Ball State’s decision to return in person for the fall semester.
“[Students returning was] such a mixed bag for me,” she said. “On one hand, of course, as a business owner, I wanted the students back here. The students are vital to our community — not just the Village but to the entire community of Muncie. On the other hand, as an aging community member and a person who has some other medical conditions, I really didn't want them to come back. And if they came back, they need to behave themselves.”
Contact John Lynch with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @WritesLynch.