“'That's what 19-year-olds are hard-wired to do. They've been locked away with their parents and it's going to just be a matter of days before they're sick.'"
“Housing inventory in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle is like what toilet paper was at the beginning of the crisis. You just can't get it. The people who want to get out of the big, dense cities like Manhattan are looking here because of the Research Triangle, the climate, and lots of land and space.
The climate here also is helping our restaurants, as the weather stays warmer longer. The town has given the restaurants grants for outdoor tables and they’ve widened the sidewalks on Franklin Street. It’s making a difference. More and more people are coming downtown to eat. And the restaurants are putting in outdoor heaters because outdoor dining is going to be the new normal for a while.
Our open spaces and years-long investment in greenways and parks also is paying dividends. People coming here for the day to walk, bike, and explore the town. We’re not seeing the typical overnight tourist, but people are really taking advantage of what our town has to offer. For example, our three disc golf courses have been very busy!
It’s hard, though, because we are a university town and in 2019, tourism funded 2,000 jobs here in our county. UNC is the biggest economic driver. People come here for college tour visits, football games, basketball games, conferences, weddings, reunions.
People in the hospitality industry were torn about the students coming back. Some said, ‘If they don't come back, we'll close up.’ Then the next person would say, ‘But these are 19-year-olds and they're all going to get together and be in close contact because that's what 19-year-olds are hard-wired to do. They've been locked away with their parents and it's going to just be a matter of days before they're sick.’ And, of course, that's what happened. So we closed up again as a community.
Which businesses will hang on remains to be seen. Three restaurants at Chapel Hill’s main downtown intersection (Franklin and Columbia) have closed, except for Top of the Hill. As of now, we have more than 21 restaurants that won't reopen. Our hotels are suffering too, of course. Our inventory dropped by about 300 rooms and our revenues dropped 80%.
But there are encouraging signs here and there. People are starting to call and ask if they book holiday weddings or holiday brunches or reunions. And we just don't know because of the cap on indoor gatherings, so we go day-to-day.”
-- Laurie (September 2020)