Some of the companies who rent their premises from Erasmus University hope to negotiate a rent reduction due to the coronavirus crisis. “We’re missing out on a tremendous lot of revenue due to the fact that the campus has been closed. We hope that the university will meet us halfway and will share in our misfortune”, says their spokesperson, Tostiworld owner Marc van Hooijdonk.

Last Wednesday, Van Hooijdonk, in his capacity as the chairperson of the food court’s association of undertakings, talked to the university on behalf of them, the Spar supermarket, the bicycle repair shop and the hair salon. “It was a good meeting. We’ve already been offered the possibility of a rent deferment. During the meeting I requested a rent reduction for the months we will be closed.”

He did so because, as we all know, problems become less acute when they are shared with others. “We hope we can absorb the blow of our closure together. Now that the campus has been closed, we are getting zero revenue. I totally understand that we can’t recoup all those costs from the university – they are not to blame for the coronavirus crisis – but since we’re on a campus, we are more dependent than other shops on those months we do have students around. Things are quiet on campus during the summer months even at the best of times.”

Shuttered for at least six months

A virtually empty food court.
A virtually empty food court. Image credit: Sieme de Wolf

Now that the campus has been closed, even shops that weren’t required to shutter by law, such as the bike repair shop, have closed their doors anyway. Since there is no one on campus, it is not worth keeping their shops open. “But it’s harder for them to prove they are eligible for an emergency allowance from the government, precisely because they aren’t required to close their shops”, says Van Hooijdonk.

Dave Zwaan, who repairs bicycles at Campus Bikes, is concerned about the next few months. “The campus has always been a fickle place for a business because the summer months and exam periods are very quiet. We might just have to close our doors for half a year because of the coronavirus and the summer months. We’ll have to see how we go about that. We won’t be able to bear the brunt of this on our own”, says Zwaan.

Hairdresser Lydia of Hairdesign by Lydia (located in the Polak Building) understands Zwaan’s fears and trusts that the university will do right by its tenants, should they get into serious trouble. “At the moment I can handle the situation. I’ve been on the campus for 24 years, and this isn’t the first time I’ve had to close shop for a little longer. I’m used to these things. The few times we’ve had problems here before, such as when the Polak Building was in danger of collapse, I found that the university is a very lenient landlord that really seeks to be helpful.”

Bizarre times for businesses

Van Hooijdonk, too, is worried. “First and foremost, I’m worried about whether my company will survive, which will partly depend on how long this is going to last. No one has the foggiest about that at the moment. If this goes on all summer, we’ll be in serious trouble, because we organise a lot of events at Tostiworld.” However, Van Hooijdonk also says that this is what entrepreneurship is all about. “It’s a choice you make, and I love it. This might sound weird, but in a way, it’s also true for these bizarre times. You really have to use your skills and creativity to the best of your ability, and that’s the great thing about being an entrepreneur.”

Erasmus University has issued a written statement to the effect that it is aware that these are ‘highly uncertain and difficult times for all companies’. “That includes the companies operating on campus Woudestein and at other EUR venues. The university has informed its retailers that, for now, they can be granted a rent deferment until 1 May.”

‘Buy hair trimmers’

Lydia’s empty hair salon.
Lydia’s empty hair salon.

An EUR spokesperson also stated that the companies would be able to invoke the stimulus package announced by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. It is not yet certain that the university will be able to grant a rent reduction. The university is looking into the request, which takes time. “These types of decisions are quite tricky. Also, it partly depends on the allowances granted by the government.”

On behalf of the companies that run the food court, Van Hooijdonk says he is glad to have been granted a rent deferment. “That’s a nice step in the right direction.”

Hairdresser Lydia says she is already receiving messages from customers asking if they can get a haircut. “So I’m telling them: buy hair trimmers, and best of luck! Alas, I can’t help them right now. We’ll have to comply with the guidelines until the end.”