Inside Thompson and Bleecker Neapolitan Pizzeria, located at 220 E State St., Ithaca, N.Y. (Courtesy of George Papachryssanthou)

September 29, 2020

A Local Restaurateur’s Look at Influx of Students

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Carriage House Cafe, John Thomas Steakhouse and Ten Forward Cafe.  These are just a few of Ithaca’s restaurants forced into early closings by the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, Ithaca business owners had to reevaluate as they faced massive losses in revenue; as it is estimated that Cornell students spend around $4 million every week in Ithaca, the loss of this steady income took its toll.

Yet as Cornell students begin to interact with the greater Ithaca community once again, how are local restaurateurs reacting to our return? Is it a welcome change to have the students back in town once again, or has our arrival made some Ithaca business owners’ jobs even harder?

To answer this question, I reached out to George Papachryssanthou, owner of Thompson and Bleecker Neapolitan Pizzeria, Chatty Cathy Cafe and Ithaca Wine and Spirits. As an Ithaca native, Papachryssanthou deeply understands the impact that Cornell students can have on the surrounding area.

Both Ithaca’s geographical isolation and its reliance upon Cornell students for income make it an uncommon case; during an ordinary year, these two factors work in the town’s favor. As the largest city for miles, Cornell students will always rely upon Ithaca’s shops and businesses for goods and services, ensuring a dependable flow of cash for most of the year. Yet once COVID-19 arrived, those exact features that helped keep Ithaca afloat became its biggest weaknesses. Its location, which previously kept students in, now kept outsiders out and prevented new populations from coming in to boost the economy. It is estimated that only around 12,750 people commute into Ithaca every day.

Papachryssanthou remembers the uncertainty from the early summer, noting that Ithaca would “face…really grave consequences,” if a plan was not established to bring the students back. “Our community depends on students being here. I’m thankful that President Pollack acted independent of other Ivies [by bringing students back to campus].” With the combined benefit of Cornell’s testing capacity and Ithaca’s demographics and location, we were “uniquely positioned to succeed.”

Papachryssanthou urges students to remember that we are a part of something much bigger than just ourselves — we contribute to the wellbeing of an entire city. “[Ithaca’s] business community is non-existent without you here…wear masks and avoid large gatherings.” As many of us have been made aware over the course of the pandemic, our actions affect everyone around us. Our decisions dictate how these restaurants are able to operate.

So, please! Keep ordering out and be safe, while simultaneously remaining active Ithaca residents who support our local businesses.

Amelia Clute is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].