Williamsburg businesses change staff, hours after students leave

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While student evacuation orders left Paul's Deli quiet, evacuees from other areas dined at the establishment. COURTESY PHOTO / Gregory Connolly WYDaily

As students at the College of William and Mary were forced to evacuate from residence halls by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, in anticipation of Hurricane Florence, local businesses had to adjust to a decline in customers.

Eric Christenson, owner of vegetarian restaurant LOKAL, said that the Prince George Street business has slowed as a result of the student evacuation order, and has had to cut its staff as well as its hours. 

“Staffing has been reduced,” Christenson said. “We’ve also adjusted our hours because we usually stay open to support student studying. [Saturday], we’re going to shut down at 4:30, 5 o’clock, just because there’s nobody around.”

“Staffing has been reduced,” Christenson said. “We’ve also adjusted our hours because we usually stay open to support student studying. [Saturday], we’re going to shut down at 4:30, 5 o’clock, just because there’s nobody around.”

The evacuation order, which was given Tuesday, Sept. 11, was made at a time when Florence was predicted to affect the Hampton Roads area.

Original forecasts Tuesday anticipated that the hurricane would deluge Williamsburg and the surrounding areas with 5-15 inches of rain, according to the WYDaily. The order also cancelled classes from 12:30 p.m. through the rest of the week and closed not only residence halls, but the rest of campus by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

While the threat to Williamsburg waned by Thursday as the hurricane’s path drifted further south along the Carolina coast, businesses saw a severe drop in customers from the day the evacuation order was put in place until Sunday, Sept. 16, when students were allowed to return to campus.

Manager Mirella Minichiello of Sal’s by Victor off of Richmond Road also noted that the Italian establishment had been quiet last week and that the slowdown was reminiscent of ones caused by other hurricanes over the years. Unlike LOKAL, Sal’s did not make as many alterations to its operations.

“We didn’t change our business hours,” Minichiello said. “We had some staff reductions.”

Operating Partner of Green Leafe, Paul’s Deli and College Delly Michelle Elliot said that all three businesses have seen a lower turnout in student and faculty customers as a result of the evacuation order but have seen evacuees from outside of Williamsburg visit instead.

“Being that the students were evacuated or asked to leave Wednesday at 5 p.m., those who were able to stay living off campus are still coming in, but those who obviously left are not,” Elliot said. “As far as it being quiet, yes it’s definitely quiet, but we are getting guests that are coming in who evacuated to Williamsburg. So definitely still seeing the traffic of locals, visitors and some students.”

Off-campus students who stayed made time to visit local establishments, including gyms, nearby bars and restaurants in New Town, Virginia. Hannah Caffacus ’19 said she decided to stay in Williamsburg along with her housemates because the original forecast predicted similar impacts for her hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and she did not feel safe driving with other evacuees.

“I mostly just hung around and worked out and did homework while I was here,” Caffacus said. “I visited my gym, which is Drachen Crossfit. We went to Paul’s, and I went to the Green Leafe. … My gym was pretty normal because most of the people who go there live here in town and aren’t students. But when we were at Paul’s and the Green Leafe, they were definitely, totally empty.”

Kelsey Creech ’19, who is a local of Williamsburg, said she evacuated to her house near campus and spent some time with friends.

“I stayed home and went out with some of my friends from high school who also got evacuated and we went out Thursday,” Creech said. “There’s not much happening. … We went to the Corner Pocket [in New Town]. Not many people were there.”

Like Creech, Alisa Hoang ’19 also went out Thursday night. She said that College Delly was empty, but Brickhouse Tavern was well populated.

Hoang decided to stay in her off-campus house and ride out the storm with her housemate, who she said is interested in meteorology and kept track of the hurricane.

“We were both willing to bear the storm — we were actually kind of excited,” Hoang said. “We were hoping that it would pour. The only thing we were really worried about was losing the power.”

“We were both willing to bear the storm — we were actually kind of excited,” Hoang said. “We were hoping that it would pour. The only thing we were really worried about was losing the power.”

Interim City Manager Andrew Trivette thanked  community members and business owners in Williamsburg for their commitment to safety in the face of emergency.

He recommended that residents stay informed and mindful of changing weather. Trivette also warned residents that the hurricane season was not over and that residents should be prepared for any upcoming storms by maintaining their emergency kits and plans for future evacuations.

“I would like to thank City residents and businesses for taking the threat of Hurricane Florence seriously and for looking out for each other,” Trivette said in a press release. “Your response and the great work by City staff demonstrate the importance of preparedness in managing an emergency.”