School uniforms sit on store shelves amid remote learning

Sales Associate Vianat Abreua stands guard over her station with no customers to wait on.

At Flynn O’Hara Uniforms in Harlem, employees are ready for the flood of parents and children, but the back-to-school crowds have yet to show. Rope lines and directional arrows sit waiting to guide hurried masses of shoppers, who are instead skipping new uniforms this year. COVID-19 has not only disrupted school calendars, but also school clothes. 

“Around this time is when we could have 300 to 400 people a day,” says sales associate Vianat Abreu, who is working her fourth back-to-school season at Flynn O’Hara. “I’ve never seen it like this. Usually, we have people lined up out the door and down the whole block.”

Across the store, shelves of cellophane-wrapped blue oxfords and pleated khakis sit fully stocked and untouched. 

“We’re mostly operating as a warehouse right now,” says store manager John Babjak. 

Area schools have varied in their approaches to dress codes for distance learning. Schools like Harlem Village and Cristo Rey High School are allowing students to wear relaxed items, like a school t-shirt, as classes remain online at least through October. Success Academy is one school requiring full uniforms while students work from their homes. However, according to Flynn employees, Success Academy also opted to purchase new uniforms for every student.  

Flynn O’Hara is not expecting a surge of customers as the school year goes on. 

“Things can get expensive for parents and there’s already so much uncertainty. We’ve started looking towards next summer,” Babjak says. “This year is kind of a wash.”

Store Manager John Babjak waits for clients among the surplus of stock during a slow back-to-school season.

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Dan Latu is a current student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and graduate of Boston College. Previously, Dan worked as legislative assistant in the House of Representatives covering housing, financial services, LGBTQ+ rights and other domestic policy issues.

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