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Newark merchants will turn to online sales to make up for fewer students in fall

'This is the third challenge we’ve had to face in two years,' said Todd Brewer, owner of Rainbow Records on Main Street.

Merchants on Main Street in Newark say they are going to have to ramp up their online game to make up for sales they will miss because they expect fewer students in town this fall.

The University of Delaware said last week that most of its classes will go online this fall, which means more kids will study from home and therefore lots less foot traffic in the coming semester.

“This is the third challenge we’ve had to face in two years,” said Todd Brewer, owner of Rainbow Records on Main Street. “First, it was the construction on Main Street. Then the quarantine. Now this.” 

Earlier this week the university said it was changing its plan for the semester. It originally had said some big classes would be online and some small classes would meet in person. This week, it said most classes will meet online, partly because the number of COVID-19 cases are rising among 18- to 34-year olds almost everywhere. 

The university also said it would only allow people in dorms who had to be in specific in-person classes or who had a hardship of some kind. Students expect to be alerted this week about whether they are invited to live in the dorms.

Newark Mayor Jerry Clifton said he knows the university’s decision will impact the business community, because so many are reliant on sales to students.

“We have to do what’s best for the students and our neighbors,” he said. “I wholeheartedly concur with UD’s decision; I think it’s a good medium.”  

Merchants say they don’t really know what to expect.

Newark Main Street on Saturday, July 25, 2020
This is Michael Romagnoli’s photo of the same street scene Saturday. 

“The semester hasn’t started yet,” Brewer said, “so we really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

His rent won’t change because there are fewer students.

“I’ll put it this way, we pay a premium for rent for access to 21,000 students; this is our long-term challenge,” Brewer said. 

But he also said, “We always find a way,” and that he was thankful that the community has stepped up in the last year.

His way forward may be finding a way to do more online. He’s banking on a peak in interest in records.

“The students are all going to be bored at home,” said Brewer. “I have faith that this might bring more customers in, get more students into buying records.”

The store will remain open, as it has since the state allowed retail to reopen. Brewer said his online store will bring a bigger catalog of records to the students who won’t be back this semester. 

Marilyn Vickey, the owner of Grass Roots boutique on Main Street, also plans to turn to online sales. About half her sales are to students, she said.

“I’m  going to have to try and do online. My daughter is going to help me learn how,” Vickey said. “We already have an online presence, but we need to do more.”  

Michael Romagnoli, the owner of Newark Camera Shop, is following that path, too.

“Right now we’re preparing to move online,” he said. “Customers will be able to send in pictures through our website and we’ll print them how they want and mail the prints to them.” 

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