Hamden small businesses bloom with fresh customers

Corinna Pazzanese, Contributing Writer

Last year, the absence of students at Quinnipiac due to the pandemic was a prominent factor that affected Hamden’s small businesses. With more students back on campus this year, these businesses are finally getting back on track.

Quinnipiac University’s Associate Vice President for Public Relations John Morgan said the university had around 1,000 fewer students on campus during the 2020-21 academic year compared to this year.

“Now that we’re fully back to in-person, in-classroom instruction there is definitely an increased presence of students on campus and in the local community,” Morgan said.

Funcle’s Cafe, which was founded early in the pandemic, is a popular choice for students. (Connor Lawless)

COVID-19 created many new obstacles for small businesses, such as challenges getting certain resources into the stores, according to an article from the New York Times

Alyson Kern, the front end manager at Funcle’s Cafe, a breakfast and lunch restaurant popular among Quinnipiac students, said it seems like, “everything is out of stock.” She said that the weekends are still extremely busy in the cafe.

Mack Cianciolo, the co-owner of Fresh Greens and Proteins, a new eatery near the Mount Carmel campus, agreed that one of the biggest challenges that are still occurring is getting products into the store. He said that certain products are unavailable and some have even tripled in price. 

“The last thing we want to do is relay the cost to the customers,” Cianciolo said.

Maneuvering the new shortages of goods and increase in prices is certainly a challenge for these businesses. Like many, these local businesses have had to learn to think outside of the box and adapt to their current situations.

The manager at Pretty Woman Outlet, Hannah Yoou, said that her store had to close its fitting rooms due to COVID-19 precautions. This brought difficulties to the shopping experience as most people want to try on clothes before purchasing.

Spuds Your Way has both takeout location and food truck options. (Daniel Passapera)

Down the road, Spuds Your Way is a takeout restaurant that provides food trucks as well. The availability of catering events for Spuds greatly depleted since most parties and events were canceled during the pandemic.

“All of our catering took a massive hit,” said Jared Cohen, Spuds Your Way’s owner and chef. “We shut the trucks down until we partnered up with Food Fleet.”

Food Fleet provides mobile food and beverage options for corporations and organizations around the country. Spuds Your Way’s food truck frequents the Quinnipiac campus. Cohen credits his partnership with Food Fleet for allowing his business to continue during the pandemic.

The Spuds Your Way food truck is able to promote the store front with its presence on the Quinnipiac campus. This is a considerable change from last year. Cohen said that he only did 50% of the business he could have last year if the pandemic never happened.

Although the challenges of the pandemic are not over for these small businesses, the return of students to campus this fall brought back business opportunities.

“The weekends are super crazy, and it all started on the first move-in weekend,” Kern said. 

Kern said Funcle’s Cafe phone and app services have been completely overwhelmed with orders over the weekends since students returned to campus.

At the Pretty Woman outlet, the university shuttle comes to the parking lot frequently.

“It’s great to see kids getting excited to go out again,” Yoou said.

Kristen D’Ariano, a junior double major in physical therapy and psychology, said she often goes to local businesses, especially restaurants. 

“Last year, it was a little more difficult to find places to go to,” D’Ariano said. “I was a little unsure — not feeling too well and safe … Now, it finally feels like it’s slowly getting back to normal. I feel more inclined to go out and especially to some of my favorite restaurants I used to go to before the pandemic.”

For Fresh Greens & Proteins, Cianciolo said Quinnipiac students’ return not only allows valuable employees to join the team but also brings in a consistent flow of customers since students get out of classes at different times throughout the day.

D’Ariano said she loves going to Fresh Greens & Proteins on the weekends.

“Everyone is super friendly and welcoming, so I really like the environment within it,” D’Ariano said.

During the school year, a significant portion of some small businesses’ customer bases is students. At Pretty Woman Outlet, Yoou predicted that around 15-20% of customers are Quinnipiac students.

Cianciolo said he is happy to have the Quinnipiac community supporting his business.

“The students being back really helps the word to spread about us,” Cianciolo said.