Already reeling from the spring shutdown of LSU’s campus, Baton Rouge-area retailers and hoteliers have been nervously eyeing how the fall semester at the state’s flagship university plays out.
When LSU closed its campus mid-semester last spring because of the quickening spread of the novel coronavirus, businesses and restaurants close to campus saw their customer base virtually disappear overnight. With more than 30,000 students and 5,000 faculty and staff, the LSU campus can see more foot traffic on a given day than there are people in Prairieville, making the area seem like a ghost town for business following the closures.
The late summer rise in cases combined with continuing concerns about the health and safety of faculty, staff and students created a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the fall semester.
Matherne’s Market depends on the LSU neighborhood community for its business, says Ernie Matherne, who owns the grocery store with son Tony. The campus Matherne’s Market opened in 2018 as the 17,000-square-foot anchor tenant in Nicholson Gateway, LSU’s 28-acre mixed-use development.
The customer count in the summer was roughly one-third of what it was in February, he estimates. Besides student customers, the business lost faculty members, facility maintenance workers and dozens of LSU Foundation employees, the latter of whom were laid off early in the spring and worked in a building right in front of the grocery.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, we’re struggling,” Matherne says. He’s mainly concerned with on-campus student housing and the uncertainty around football, which usually brings seven weekends of “really great business” for the grocery.
Read on for the rest of the story, which appeared in Business Report‘s August 2020 issue ahead of the start of the school semester.