Student visit shops in Clinton as part of the Off the Hill Challenge.

More than 225 years ago, Clinton residents came together to support Samuel Kirkland’s plan for the children of local Oneida Indians to learn alongside the children of the settlers streaming into the region following the American Revolution.

“Among them was Moses Foote, Clinton’s founder, who pledged two pounds cash, 20 days labor and construction materials” for the new school wrote Hamilton Professor Maurice Isserman in On the Hill, A Bicentennial History of Hamilton College.

“The college and the community have grown up together, to the mutual benefit of both. We rely on each other,” said Hamilton President David Wippman.

Today, the global pandemic has shut down the campus and most of the community, threatening the viability of some of the businesses and organizations that give Clinton the charm that helps Hamilton attract students and employees to the picturesque community.

“The broad reach of the pandemic on the local economy has hit at all levels – property owners, renters, contractors, restaurants, shops off the Village Green, and the bed and breakfasts,” said Clinton Mayor Steve Bellona who recently retired after 20 years working at the College. He said his greatest concern is “the failure of a majority of businesses on West Park Row and College Street in the village business district.”

College towns all across the country are feeling the effect.

“In another measure of the massive economic toll of the pandemic on higher education, the resulting shutdowns have been singularly devastating to the college towns in which these campuses are situated,” according to an article in The Hechinger Report.

“The decision to suspend in-person instruction was difficult for many reasons, including the effect we knew it would have on the village,” said Wippman. “We’re doing everything possible to resume normal operations as soon as we can do so safely, not just for our students, faculty, and staff, but also because we know the College has an enormous economic impact on our neighbors in the community.”

Spring is typically an especially vibrant time in college towns with campuses hosting open houses, commencements, and reunions. “The difficult decision to cancel the Hamilton College Commencement and June reunion activities will also hamper the ability of the local businesses in the Village to recover,” Bellona said.

In late March, right after New York Pause was implemented, Bellona said the Clinton Chamber of Commerce and the village put together a group of merchants, community leaders, and Hamilton College representatives to pursue ways to assist local businesses.

That group meets weekly to consider alternatives, but Bellona said individual residents and Hamilton employees can do a lot on their own.

“Shop local,” he said. “When we as a community come out of the shutdown, our businesses need us and others to support them.”

And there’s no need to wait. The Clinton Chamber of Commerce maintains a website listing businesses and organizations that are still operating, and the chamber is busy planning for the modified opening of the weekly Farmer’s Market beginning on Thursday, June 4, on the Village Green. Bellona said residents and Hamilton employees can also support area businesses by purchasing gift cards from the Clinton Chamber.

“Our quality of life is greatly enhanced by a vibrant business community,” Bellona said, “and we all need to do what we can to protect that.”

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