From Bustling to Barren: COVID-19 Comes to Kutztown

From Bustling to Barren: COVID-19 Comes to Kutztown

Kutztown, Pa.’s abundance of parking spots reflects the fact that more than half of Kutztown University’s students did not return to campus this fall. [Credit: Dawn Heinbach]

(KUTZTOWN, Pa.) — The sun shone brightly on Main Street, promising to warm the autumn day. Cars drove slowly in groups of three or four. It was a September Monday in this college town, but the usual bustle of students walking or driving to or from class, visiting local eateries for lunch, or stopping in other businesses for needed items, was missing. Perhaps most noticeable were the empty parking spaces; at this time of year, it is usually nearly impossible to find one. This scene looked more like May after final exams are finished and all the resident students have left campus. Where was everyone? 

Kutztown’s population of 5,000 usually increases by 8,000 – 10,000 during the school year because of students attending Kutztown University of Pennsylvania (KU), part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). But according to KU’s website, there are just 2,300 students living on campus this fall. It is unclear how many students are living off campus. 

In August, the college administration announced its Fall 2020 Plan: Students had the option to either return to campus and follow social distancing guidelines, or stay at home or in off-campus housing and attend classes virtually. Residence halls would open and face-to-face classes would be held as usual until Thanksgiving break. At that time, students living on-campus would return home and complete the semester via Zoom. 

Still, Kutztown has become a COVID-19 hotspot. According to the college’s statistics, as of 4 p.m. on October 9 there had been 336 total cases since August 24, including 4 employees. Eighty percent have recovered. 

Main Street’s Paisley & Company Bath Boutique & Fragrance Bar, owned and operated by Joanne Lapic, has been closed to customers since March, although they have been taking online orders and either shipping them or doing a contactless pick up for local customers. The store sells handmade skin and bath products such as body washes, hand soaps, and lotions. Lapic said that wearing a mask would impede customers from smelling the fragrances. 

Lapic said her business faces a quandry: local customers have told her that they are reluctant to shop in town since the spike in COVID-19 cases.  And she’s used to hiring students. Three of her former employees were students who did not return to campus this fall.

“When the pandemic closures first started we had 9 employees, including myself and my daughter,” Lapic said. “Today we have my daughter, myself and one part-time person.” 

A large part of Paisley & Company’s revenue typically comes from the students’ parents, who visited frequently under normal circumstances. “We miss them,” Lapic said. “And the professors coming by.”

At the end of September, Lapic was installing a window where customers will be able to sniff various scents and pick up items ordered online. “Talk about a change,” she said. “It’s a whole different thing. You have to adapt to it.”