In State College, when Penn State University makes a decision, the rest of the town tends to follow suit. And so when the top employer in the county by a factor of ten announced Wednesday that in-person classes would become remote through at least April 3 due to the threat of the COVID-19 virus pandemic (the university has since created a site dedicated to updates on the coronavirus outbreak), the community saw an onslaught of social media posts and emails from other businesses and organizations in the county. But not all were announcing closure.
Webster’s Bookstore & Cafe in downtown State College announced Thursday that the business would remain open with increased safety precautions and the cancellation of some events.
“It’s striking a balance of being a resource for people who need hot meals, a cup of coffee, a place to land,” says owner Elaine Meder-Wilgus. “Some people who are doing remote teaching don’t have the kind of internet they need to do that. Here we are a space that we can, for most purposes, assure a 4-6 foot boundary between people. We’re looking differently at how we’re handling things from our side and then on the other side educating our customers on what social distancing means.”
The CDC defines social distancing as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” The CDC’s guidelines also recommend avoiding close contact and practicing good hygiene through frequent and thorough hand washing.
“We’re not actively seeking people to come hang out with us, but it’s about being a resource for people who need us,” says Meder-Wilgus, who is one of the people behind the recently formed Centre County Covid-19 Community Response group to be a virtual clearinghouse for aid efforts in the community.
“I’m concerned about our service workers in this town,” Meder-Wilgus says. “The loss in tips over spring break is enough to make rent a stretch — now imagine that extended for weeks.” She is also compiling a list of local artists’ Patreon pages or links to buy their music as cancelled gigs also mean a substantial loss of income for many.
“This is when we’re going to see what we’re made of,” she says. “We’re going to get through it. We need everybody to stay calm. Don’t panic, just take precautions. Part of that is really considering self quarantining, not just for yourself but for others.”
Maine Bay & Berry, a local seafood purveyor that also sells prepared foods, is also working to serve the community by offering delivery to its most susceptible customers.
“We’re not a delivery service,” says owner Shaun Knight, “but the data kept coming back and saying those over 60 and those with suppressed immune systems are at higher risk than those who are relatively healthy. These are the very people who have supported us for the last three years. How can we not help them?”
Since posting the announcement of the free delivery service for those 60 years of age or older and/or with compromised immune systems, Knight says that multiple people have reached out to volunteer as delivery drivers.
“As a community, this is why we shop local, we want to support each other,” he says. “It’s not something we have to do; we feel like in our hearts it’s the right thing to do.” To that end, Knight has added that if customers need something Maine Bay & Berry doesn’t sell, like milk or bread or even a prescription from the drugstore, he is willing to help make that happen.
“Regardless of the economic impact, this is something we need to do for the customers that have been loyal to us,” he says.
While Knight says his business has not yet seen a downturn in foot traffic, he has heard that establishments that rely on student business are planning to schedule workers for less hours than usual. Many restaurants are remaining open, and while healthy individuals should make their own decisions about whether or not to visit, everyone can help support local business by buying gift cards to be used at a later date or put down a deposit on an upcoming party reservation. If your favorite independent restaurant is offering delivery, takeout, or curbside service, take advantage of the opportunity to support them. And when you do dine out, in whatever form, tip extra.