Williams Cafe and Benny’s Diner, along with many other Penn Student Agencies businesses, will remain closed for the spring semester as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt business operations.
Both WilCaf and Benny's Diner were closed in the fall due to safety concerns. The spring closure is another setback for Benny’s Diner, which was originally set to open in Houston Hall in March 2020 following spring break but was forced to delay opening after Penn transitioned to a completely virtual semester.
PSA businesses operate under the Vice Provost for University Life, so the decision on whether the businesses could reopen this semester was up to the University, PSA President and College senior Sophia Velasquez said. It remains unclear when they will be able to operate at full capacity again, she added.
“They may be able to reopen in the summer, but we're not entirely sure if the University is going to let us move in that direction right now,” Velasquez said.
Executive Director of WilCaf and College senior Tyira Bunche, a former sports writer for The Daily Pennsylvanian, said she never had much of a chance to operate the cafe as her term as an executive director began last March, just after Penn transitioned to virtual operations.
She said that she has continued to work on the “back-end” of operations for the cafe, like re-doing employee handbooks to make them clearer.
“I wanted to [re-do employee handbooks] regardless of the pandemic. Making the handbooks and employee guides a little more clear is something that will be in place when the cafe opens eventually,” she said.
While she remains unsure of when WilCaf will be able to reopen, she ensured her employees that they will still have a job when it does open. Until then, she has encouraged her employees to look for other jobs.
"I don't want them to be sitting around waiting for us open," she said. "I know a couple of people have taken other jobs, like I know one of my employees actually got a job at Acme when they opened," she added.
Other PSA businesses, like Penn Closet, Quaker Corner, Special Deliveries, Penn Student Design, Compass Marketing, PSA Bartending, and Penn Lens will continue to operate virtually this semester as they did in the fall.
Only firstServices — a laundry, water, and dry cleaning delivery service — offered in-person services in the fall, but in light of the pandemic, it ceased its delivery of water and instead focused solely on its laundry and dry cleaning services, according to firstServices Executive Director and College senior Ashley Anumba.
"It's like we're a new business, quite honestly, given that students are only allowed to work virtually this semester," she said.
In a typical semester, student employees usually pick up and deliver laundry, dry cleaning, and water cases. Along with halting water delivery this semester, students that work for firstServices no longer pick up and deliver laundry or dry cleaning — the third-party laundry service the business uses does that instead.
“We're just mainly making sure things are running efficiently, so it's much different than what we're used to,” she added.
The business continues to provide a door-to-door service despite only serving off-campus residents, which Anumba said has decreased the number of students firstServices serves.
“It’s definitely less given that we are only servicing off-campus residents and the bulk of our customers were on-campus residents, specifically freshmen,” she said.
Despite the closure of WilCaf and Benny's Diner and the uncertainty of when PSA businesses will be able to operate normally again, Velasquez remains optimistic about the future of the agency.
“This year was supposed to be a big year of growth in PSA. We had just opened Benny's and we planned to expand our presence on campus,” Velasquez said. “That’s still going to happen, it's just being pushed to the next year. That’s what we're going to head towards.”