By: Sophia Naughton, Contributing Writer
Businesses in Towson’s Uptown area are continuing to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes keeping businesses afloat, introducing new attractions, and maintaining COVID-19 protocols.
“Like every other community, we’ve taken a really big hit,” said Nancy Hafford, Executive Director of Towson Chamber of Commerce. “The most was the movie theater. You know, Cinemark in Towson, was in the top 5% globally as far as people going to the movies and then they came to a total shutdown.”
According to Hafford, the pandemic caused businesses to reevaluate their plans and switch the direction of their business in order to bring in more customers.
“They started doing different things to attract people, like restaurants that never did family style meals, started doing family style meals and they got a little bit more creative with their menus,” Hafford said. “A lot of them brought in new chefs, really good chefs. Like Bread & Circuses has a wonderful chef, oh my goodness, Rec Room and Towson Tavern brought in this chef from Ms. Shirley’s, CVP brought in a brand new chef.”
Towson University’s (TU) student population and residential construction in the past year have helped Uptown flourish.
“We’ve definitely noticed an uptick because even the new residential units for students around here, like Altus, has opened up and that has really helped out a lot,” Hafford said. “We’re a college town, the students are a part of our community so when they’re not here, everybody really feels the pinch.”
Along with developments in student housing, Towson has been able to open several businesses despite the pandemic like Shake Shack and Mission BBQ.
“I’ve done four openings in the last two weeks of businesses, and I’ve got a couple more coming down the pike.” Hafford said.
TU students living on and around campus this semester have filled up restaurants like Barley’s Backyard.
“Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday it’s always full,” said Hannah Miller, TU student and employee at The Backyard. “There’s always people coming in and out there’s always a line, like I feel like so many more people are here now, especially with college kids being back.”
While students have been aiding local businesses and restaurants, employees have noticed that COVID-19 safety guidelines aren’t being followed all the time.
“They have a hard time with being seated and leaving their masks on,” said Kristina Campbell, manager of On The Border. “We’ve had to crack down on it recently because it’s gotten a little bit out of control with the walking around to other tables without a mask on. So pretty much we’ll give you a warning and after that you just pretty much pay your tab and it’s time to leave.”
According to Paige Lininger, TU student and employee at Barley’s Backyard, her and her coworkers often have to give students a reminder to keep their masks on.
“Usually people will just forget that they aren’t wearing one and will quickly put one up but sometimes people have a little bit of an attitude with it which I think is really rude considering that the restaurant is still open during this time,” said Lininger.
Uptown businesses are right down the street from the Baltimore County offices, who monitor COVID-19 safety regulations throughout Uptown.
“I’ve heard sometimes restaurants tell me two, three times a night inspectors will come by,” said Hafford.
According to Hafford, Baltimore County has supplied restaurants with support through the pandemic hoping to avoid any declines in business and increases in COVID-19 cases.
“We work with the county, who gave out tens of thousands of dollars and masks to restaurants all around Baltimore County,” Hafford said. “We have signage on ‘Be safe, Stay safe.’ And you’re not hearing about any breakouts in restaurants, it’s not happening there.”
Not only with TU students, but the community as a whole has been a strong support system for business in Uptown.
“We are very grateful that we have a good communication with our residents that live in the area,” said Hafford. “When [COVID-19] hit, our community raised over $60,000 to buy food and restaurants to give to first responders. Restaurants, even though they were struggling, would send meals to hospitals into, you know, the fire and the police departments, so our community has been so extremely generous, that it’s really heartwarming.”