An influx of more than 2,800 students in January represented a significant change for town residents and businesses. From March 2020 — when undergraduate students were forced to leave campus in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — to the start of this semester, Princeton’s campus had been nearly empty.
The Daily Princetonian interviewed members of the greater Princeton community for their thoughts on students’ return to campus. All residents quoted are referred to in this piece by their first names only.
Anna, Mary, and Jane
Anna, Mary, and Jane, all Princeton residents, spoke to the ‘Prince’ while sitting in front of Princeton Public Library with their dog.
Anna first admitted that she had not noticed that students had returned to campus, but said that “kids deserve the experience.”
“To be honest, I think the experience is something that I’m happy that they’re having. I think it’s worth the sacrifices that we have to make,” she added.
Jane said that the trio all had their own children, so they empathized with students’ desire to return to campus.
“So long as students are respectful of mask wearing, it’s great to have everybody back,“ she said.
Jane also commented on the University’s role in bringing students back, telling the ‘Prince’ that she had faith in its decision.
“The University and town have always lived very happily alongside each other,” she said. “I think Princeton and the University does everything with very high standards.”
Mary added that she believed the University did a good job in timing the return of students to campus due to its overlap with the start of vaccine rollout in New Jersey and throughout the country.
Isai, a student at Mercer County Community College and resident of the Princeton area, commented on the difference between entirely virtual and in-person learning in regard to the University’s on-campus experience.
“[It’s] great knowing that they’re still learning physically,” he said of Princeton undergraduate students. “I know learning online can be hard because I’m in college myself.”
However, Isai noted feeling “a little uncomfortable” seeing more people in Princeton than previously, and said that he “rarely [goes] to the more populated parts.”
Martha, an employee of the U-Store at 36 University Place, said that town businesses were “happy to see people back.”
The U-Store has been open since students left campus last spring, as it was considered an essential business, but Martha noted that it was not exempt from the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects.
“Business still took a very large hit, as is true for all businesses out there,” she said.
Martha told the ‘Prince’ that the University did “a pretty complete job bringing people back,” and that she “can’t think of anything” that could have gone better concerning reopening.
Saeed, an area resident who runs the newly-opened Princeton Convenience Store with his wife, said that with the return of many undergraduate students, “business has been good, but will be much, much better” when all students eventually come back.
He did note, however, that the University should do more to “improve business” in the meantime.
Saeed also remarked that it was hard to recognize the faces of repeat student customers because they are all wearing masks. Nevertheless, he said that “the kids [at Princeton] are very nice compared to other universities; they’re very calm, gentle, and humble.”
“I wish that everyone’s life comes back,” Saeed added. “The COVID thing — it messes up everyone’s life. I wish everything will be over soon.”