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Mount Pleasant reacts to students' return to campus

Downtown Mount Pleasant remains on May 30 quiet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Central Michigan University students return to Mount Pleasant, the total population of the city doubles. 

With coronavirus on their minds, residents, city officials and business owners have mixed opinions about the student body's return.

For Mount Pleasant resident Cristy Hart, the parties are what angered her the most. Living near the Deerfield Village Apartments for eight years, she feels the Welcome Weekend gatherings were "bigger" than years past. 

"I do not feel safe at all. (The students) just don't have respect for anybody in this town," Hart said. "Not saying all of them -- just a majority of them that want to party and don't care about our town or our community of people."

When it came to opening the university, Mayor Will Joseph spoke to CMU President Bob Davies about the community's concerns. Ultimately, the decision to open campus was made by CMU. 

"I would say the lines of communication between city hall and Warriner Hall are strong. We have good relationships between the administration and staff, but ultimately the decision to open campus was made by CMU," Joesph said. "I know that I have talked to President Davies and relayed some concerns that were brought to me by community members."

Joseph said his impression is that Davies is committed to having a safe learning space for CMU students and Mount Pleasant.

Davies detailed CMU's plan for avoiding the spread of COVID-19 in a blog post. In this post, he addressed CMU‘s close partnership with Central Michigan District Health Department and local leadership in Mount Pleasant, Union Township and Isabella County. 

“I assure you that we are closely monitoring the COVID-19 virus and will continue to take precautions to keep our community as safe as possible,” Davies wrote. “After all, Mount Pleasant is our home. What happens in our region affects us all, and we are mindful of our responsibility as members of this community.”

Upon students' return, CMU chose to provide a hyflex format, where classes are partially in person and online. As other universities across the state have decided to transfer to an online-only format, CMU's decision has caused residents to question why. 

Manager Nancy Ridley said the city is always excited for CMU students to come back. However, this year is different.

"This year, there was a bit of hesitation about (students returning to campus) because of bringing so many people from so many different areas of the state and knowing that part of the college experience is the socialization that goes along with it," Ridley said. "I think there are mixed emotions this year about having the students back in town."

With the increase of students in Mount Pleasant, local businesses were preparing all summer to safely accommodate the influx of customers. 

B's Music Shop on Mission Street had to adapt to the pandemic by moving lessons online and expanding their online store. Sales floor representative and music teacher Gabriel Doe said the music shop is fairing well since students have returned.

“Strangely enough, for the last two to four months, we’ve hit numbers we haven’t had,” Doe said. “We’re excited to have students back, but 'worrisome' is the proper word for what it’s been like since they returned.”

Carol Akiyama, the owner of Vaped Ape on Mission Street, also described her proximity to the campus as "worrisome." In regard to her student customer base, Akiyama described how losing them would be tough, but not a complete loss.

“When the students normally leave campus, the locals business picks up, and when the kids come back, their business picks up and the locals drop down. So, it’s not too big of a change” Akiyama said. “I have plans b, c and d for whatever happens next, so we’re prepared.”

COVID-19 wasn't as gentle to others. It crippled downtown comic shop Hall of Heroes on Broadway Street.

Owner Michael Shuler said large comic book companies like D.C. Comics have pushed for all-digital comic books and many distributors have been shut down. The transition could be devastating to comic book stores across the country.

Shuler said it's nice to have the students back for the good of his business.

“I’ve seen a pick-up of students recently; I’ve had over a dozen new young customers come in this week alone,” Shuler said. “Safety is a big concern because of the pandemic, but it’s nice to have the students back too.” 

With CMU's campus open, Ridley stressed that Mount Pleasant, CMU and the health department are working together. Ultimately, individuals are responsible for the health and safety of Mount Pleasant. 

"The bottom line is it becomes a personal responsibility upon each of us to do the things we can do individually to help stop that spread," Ridley said. "Wear masks, don't be in large crowds, don't go to work or school when you are sick and participate in contact tracing so that the health department knows where the potential exposures are."