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Spring commencement is one of the busiest times of the year in Ann Arbor as large crowds visit town to celebrate with the year’s graduating class. For the past two years, commencement has looked a little different: the commencement was canceled in 2020 and was closed to guests in 2021. This year, however, there will be two commencement ceremonies, one for the class of 2022 on April 30 and a special “Comeback Ceremony” for the class of 2020 on May 7.

Ann Arbor businesses typically rely on spring commencement as a way to drive in large amounts of traffic before students leave and foot traffic slows down. The cancellation of the 2020 commencement ceremony and the pared-down 2021 commencement ceremony to graduates has put a strain on Ann Arbor businesses already trying to stay afloat.

For businesses like Ashley’s Bar & Grill on State Street, graduation leads to an increase in turnout. Ashley’s owner Jeff More said he expects a steady increase as individual schools and colleges within the University of Michigan have their own commencement ceremonies.

“It’s not just the Saturday commencement,” More said. “There’s different colleges. So they’re utilizing Hill Auditorium for an awful lot for different college commencements as well. (Ashley’s Bar & Grill) being right across from (Hill Auditorium) we see so much (business) throughout the week.”

Lauren Bloom, owner of Bløm Meadworks, a local mead and cider company located on Fourth Ave, said her business does not typically surge after commencement. Rather, restaurants and other food or drink related businesses in the city become the main attraction as families celebrate with a meal.    

“We see kind of an overall general increase in business, but it doesn’t end up being this huge surge,” Bloom said. “What we’ve found in the past is that the real spike in business tends to mostly hit restaurants in Ann Arbor because most people are looking to go out with their family, get a meal and sit down for a while.”

Lisa Bee, co-founder of Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea, which has seven locations throughout Ann Arbor, said quick service businesses are expecting demand to increase around commencement for a quick bite to eat or drink.

“It’s a mix of both (taking out and dining) in and then if it’s a nice day, they usually want to walk around … but if (it is not a nice day), then they’ll come in and sit down,” Bee said. “So we definitely see a lot more of the seats filled. Especially if it’s a nice day, then they’re sitting outside and this year, we’re going to have the street area closed off so the patio seating will be a lot bigger.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Ann Arbor expanded permits for patio seating, the city closed specific streets on the weekends during the pandemic to allow for increased outdoor seating. The city is continuing the program this summer after citizens spoke out in support of al fresco dining. More said he plans to reopen Ashley’s patio once the weather improves.

“During (the winter of 2021), we kept our little bit of outdoor seating, like six tables, open all last winter,” More said. “And we had a lot of 50 degree days on a Saturday and, you’d turn the heaters on and every table would be full all day long, even though we’re otherwise shut down.”

While Bløm does not usually receive large surges of business at commencement, Bloom said she is overstaffing her restaurant for the weekend to prepare for more customers.

“We usually ask one or two extra staff members to come on for the weekend,” Bloom said. “That usually tends to be a good balance of being prepared and making sure that we can see people quickly and serve people quickly.”

LSA freshman Daniel Silva works at Bert’s Cafe inside the Shapiro Library. Silva said he has been asked to pick up more shifts during the graduation season. 

This additional demand for shifts is not solely a result of graduation. Throughout the pandemic, businesses have reported having a harder time finding workers.

For businesses with fewer workers, there is additional strain on workers. Silva said this extra demand is even more stressful for full-time students. 

“I have the pressure of, ‘Oh, we need a shift covered,’” Silva said. “It’s just worse because you want to catch up, do your work, study for that exam, but also, you don’t want to let down your coworkers that you get so close with, and you become actual friends with.”

Preparation for graduation goes beyond simply adding more staff, however. Bee said Sweetwaters is also adding additional merchandise and menu items to prepare for the influx of customers.

“We’ll bring in more desserts, more treat items, celebratory items,” Bee said. “Students who are graduating usually want to take something with them. And because we’ve been in Ann Arbor for such a long time, and there’s multiple locations in Ann Arbor, they usually want to take a little piece with them whether it’s like a Sweetwaters t-shirt, or something like that.”

Daily Staff Reporter Matthew Shanbom can be reached at