Small businesses continue to suffer under pandemic restrictions. Several in the Ithaca area are closing their doors for good.

“It's been hard," said Tammie Olsefski, Ten Forward Cafe owner. "It was really sad to close the doors, and it happened really quickly."

What You Need To Know

  • At least five small businesses in downtown Ithaca have permanently closed since the pandemic

  • Ten Forward Cafe and John Thomas Steakhouse are two that have closed

  • Many small businesses rely on traffic from local colleges

Olsefski’s dream of serving vegan food in Ithaca began with a food truck, and the Ten Forward Cafe eventually moved above a downtown bookstore.

“It's a balance between having enough people, being able to pay enough staff, and of course, the safety for my staff and myself and all my customers is a big concern," said Olsefski.

After months of closure, and the need to space out customers in her already small location, she knew it was time to say goodbye.

“I'm not the only one in Ithaca that’s closed, and that's a really sad thing, a lot of people are really sad to see me go, but everyone else too," said Olsefski.

A closed business, like the John Thomas Steakhouse.

“It's probably the hardest thing he’s had to deal with for his life," said John Thomas Steakhouse Manager Devin Kelly.

His father, John Kelly, owns the 26-year-old restaurant, and has been in the restaurant business for 60 years. He planned to retire in the coming years; a plan sped up by the pandemic.

“This is not an easy industry to be in, my father worked seven days a week, he hand butchers every steak that hits every plate, and that's a challenge, and obviously health being a concern, we think that he made the right decision," said Kelly. “This pandemic has definitely affected Ithaca in a very specific way with the colleges the majority of the businesses in the area rely heavily on college business.”

Five street-level businesses downtown have already closed because of the pandemic. The Downtown Ithaca Alliance says reopening with 50 percent capacity restrictions means some owners are barely breaking even to keep their doors open.

“As we get some vacancies, we are sad to see businesses go, but those vacancies eventually are opportunities for us to try to find other businesses," said Gary Ferguson, Downtown Ithaca Alliance executive director.

In the midst of closings, four new businesses have opened downtown.