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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

Akron Landmark Stan Hywet Offers Space, Beauty During Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed how people interact with the outside world. And that’s made parks across Northeast Ohio almost essential. 

Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron has opened its doors to the public, free of charge. Its executive director says it gives people another way to get out of the house.  

One of the first things you notice walking into Stan Hywet is the sign telling you to practice social distancing. Into a microphone attached to a long boom pole, Executive Director Sean Joyce talks about the grounds at the historic site. "Fortunately the flowers are up," Joyce said. 

Joyce strolls down wide lawns and cobble stone paths. It's pretty easy to keep the recommended distance of six feet. 

"There's plenty of space, trails in the woods, on the backside of the property here. We have a huge meadow in the front. We've got plenty of spaces throughout the gardens and everything else to get away. I think it's pretty easy,” Joyce said.

Though Stan Hywet’s century-old, 65-room manor house is closed to the public, the grounds are still one of the few museums you can still actually explore right now.

On a typical May afternoon Stan Hywet's vast lawns are filled with people walking and talking like normal.

But this season is anything but normal. 

Stan Hywet's vast lawns and gardens.
Stan Hywet's vast lawns and gardens make it possible for people to practice social distancing.

After delaying the garden's annual opening by a few weeks, Joyce said they decided to start letting a limited number of people in while waiving the usual admission fees.

"During the week it's been pretty manageable. We're averaging over 100 people or so at any given point throughout the day. The weekends though, with the weather being nice the past two weekends, it's been really busy. We’ve had to open and close the gate, managing headcount all day long," Joyce said. 

Last Saturday, they reached their max attendance just 10 minutes after opening.

But even with donations, Joyce still anticipates hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

"For us the big hits come starting (in) June, when we start having our big special events, which account for about 25% of our operating revenue." 

The biggest event that's still up in the air is the annual Father's Day Car Show

"We typically have thousands of people here, hundreds and hundreds of cars on show. It's an amazing event. It's actually run 64 years in a row."

Weddings are another big revenue stream. Joyce said they typically book more than a hundred receptions and ceremonies a year. 

Stan Hywet's English Garden
Stan Hywet features many hidden places like the English Garden.

Joyce said they were able to get a small business loan from the government to help offset some losses and keep staff, but there's still uncertainty looming in the distance.

"How far out should I plan for worst case scenarios? And how far do you react?"

He's still hopeful that Stan Hywet can open fully, including resuming house tours, at some point this year.

"I think until there's a vaccine or some other answer, where it's not a risk anymore, I think that's how we're going to have to manage. But I expect us to get back to normalcy at some point once they solve the coronavirus issue. And hopefully it just truly is a once in a 100 year pandemic.”

Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.