The uncertain future of students returning to campus is creating a similarly uncertain atmosphere for businesses in small towns with big universities. In the wake of their return for the fall 2020 term, photos have emerged of students hosting large parties with no masks and no social distancing, giving the schools, the cities around them, and the businesses that thrive off of students pause as they try to decide how to safely operate.

Should cases of COVID-19 surge and students be sent home once again, these businesses could be in even trouble. While businesses in bigger cities like Boston and Austin, Texas, may receive steady business from locals, those in towns where 35-45% of the entire population is made up of students, like Ann Arbor, Michigan, or Bloomington, Indiana, might not be able to recover from another setback.

Visiting Ann Arbor for a report, the Associated Press spoke to numerous business owners afraid for the future of their businesses. While the University of Michigan is attempting to bring back its 40,000 strong student body for in-person classes, the disregard for public health guidelines at campuses like Purdue University in Indiana and Syracuse University in New York state, has cast doubt on whether the plan will stick.

ABC News reported on the concern at schools all across the country, including Iowa, Utah, and Alabama. Spikes in cases among young people in these states were traced to large parties and general disregard for healthy conduct.

Some Ann Arbor businesses, like the well-known Espresso Royale, have already been forced to shut down, much to the dismay of the returning students. With Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently issuing an executive order, bars across the state have been shuttered as well.

“It’s going to take a long time to recover from my losses,” Perry Porikos, owner of multiple bars and restaurants in Ann Arbor, told the AP.

University of North Carolina
Students walk through the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on August 18, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.The school halted in-person classes and reverted back to online courses after a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases over the past week. Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images