Ithaca local businesses reflect on the tumultuous past year and look forward to brighter days ahead as the weather gets warmer and the end of the pandemic seems not so far away.
Robert Quackenbush, manager of Sunset Grill, has been working at the restaurant for nine years and is in the process of buying it from the current owner. Sunset Grill has been open for 19 years and is a popular spot for college students. Before the pandemic, Sunset Grill would be packed on weekends. “We used to carry trays over people,” Quackenbush said while describing the crowds that used to form as people waited for seating. Brendan Iannucci/The Ithacan
Before the pandemic hit in March 2020, Sunset Grill had 22 employees. Today the restaurant employs 12 people. Quackenbush said reduced capacity and loss of customers are to blame for the reduction in staff. “Right now we’re not even doing 300 [people] on a Saturday or Sunday,” he said. “Before the pandemic, we were doing anywhere between 450 and 600 [people] a day.” Brendan Iannucci/The Ithacan
From left, Cornell University senior John Push and junior Dani Luntz are able to enjoy their meals outdoors on Sunset Grill’s deck March 30. “If that deck wasn’t there, this restaurant would not be open,” Quackenbush said. He is hopeful that customers will start coming back as the weather gets better and that he will be able to hire back his staff as COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift. Brendan Iannucci/The Ithacan
Nothing Nowhere began with Caleb Harrington, the current sole proprietor of Nothing Nowhere, as a small art pop-up and moved into Home Green Home on the Commons three months before the COVID-19 lockdown. During the summer of 2020, high rent on one end of the Commons moved Nothing Nowhere and Home Green Home to their current location at 126 E. State St., where they have operated since their reopening in October 2020 as a coffee shop with everything from matcha lattes, passion fruit truffles and a secret beverage menu based on tarot cards. Alyssa Beebe/The Ithacan
Doug Levine ’04 has been the executive director of The State Theatre in Ithaca for the past 11 years. When the theater’s shows were canceled due to the pandemic, artists who were originally slated for performances shifted to livestreams throughout the summer of 2020 and into 2021. The State Theatre began fundraising efforts including its “Save Your Seat” campaign, which allowed members of the community to purchase a physical plaque on a seat in the theater. This campaign helped close the theatre’s budget gap of $160,000. Alyssa Beebe/The Ithacan
Kristin O’Scammon opened Alley Cat Cafe in June 2018 with the intention of creating a homey, welcoming community space for cat adoptions. Here, she holds a cat available for adoption in the cafe March 7. “Now, there are a lot more students than there were during COVID,” O’Scammon said. “We’re like, ‘Thank god, the students. We’re not empty.’” Lexi Danielson/The Ithacan
Jeff Lowe pours coffee March 7 at Alley Cat Cafe. A year ago, the cafe operated with a bare-bones staff to complete curbside pickup orders. Now that the cafe is able to have in-person customers again, the number of employees has increased. Lexi Danielson/The Ithacan