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Local businesses await students' return to campus as restrictions lift

Four businesses near ASU are hopeful the fall semester will bring a surge in business


The Crêpe Club on Tyler Mall is pictured on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Tempe. With the lifting of occupancy restrictions customers are ordering crepes near pre-COVID levels again.

Four businesses that serve the ASU community have each adapted to the challenges of the coronavirus with mixed results — the lack of foot traffic on campus has limited the revenue of the local businesses, but hope lies in the Fall 2021 semester when the University expects to return to in-person classes and "normal operations."

On March 5, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order rescinding the ADHS COVID-19 Guidance for Businesses, allowing restaurants, gyms, theaters, water parks, bowling alleys and bars to reopen at full capacity, a step that could be helpful for many businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty days later, Ducey followed the order with another, lifting a multitude of COVID-19 restrictions: businesses do not have to impose social distancing or mask mandates, bars can resume regular operations and more.

READ MORE: Active COVID-19 cases continue decrease; state lifts restrictions

While many businesses are hopeful for growth over the next few months, some located on ASU's Tempe campus are still struggling to get customers through their doors due to the relative lack of students on campus.

Fares Tarabichi, the owner of The Crêpe Club and The Bodhi, saw “revenue just completely freeze up” when the pandemic hit last March. Now that occupancy limits have expired, Tarabichi’s revenue is finally starting to pick up, especially at The Crêpe Club location in Scottsdale Fashion Square. 

“It's been insane numbers. I mean, we’re almost at pre-COVID numbers. And we're very grateful for that,” Tarabichi said. 

The Crêpe Club and The Bodhi's Tempe campus locations, though, are still seeing low revenue. With help from Aramark, ASU’s food service provider, both businesses have been operating exclusively on the Starship app, a contactless delivery system where food is ferried to customers by robots.

READ MORE: Robots bring contactless food delivery to campus

“Losing all this traffic on campus was very devastating,” Tarabichi said. At this point, the Starship app accounts for about 90% of the business's revenue.

Tarabichi is grateful for the assistance he received from the University, with ASU allowing him to pause rent payments and Aramark connecting him with Starship.

"I really want to emphasize a lot on how much they helped us because we would not be here today if it wasn't for Aramark's help," Tarabichi said. 

Fillmore Coffee Co. on Fillmore Street on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Phoenix.

Tristan Davies, owner of Fillmore Coffee Co. in downtown Phoenix, has not seen the jump in business the Scottsdale Fashion Square location of The Crêpe Club has; instead, Fillmore Coffee Co. has seen a more gradual increase in customers, Davies said.

Because the shop's regular customers, ASU students and businesspeople, were at home isolating during the height of the pandemic, Davies said customers from the apartment above the coffee shop kept the business afloat. 

“We had the residents that live above us that kind of kept us going through it a little bit,” Davies said. He is hopeful that the start of the fall semester will continue the upward trend.

“I'm really seeing over the next six months, kind of like a boom down here, like lots of people moving back into here," Davies said. "When school kind of goes back ... I think it's gonna be a whole different thing and it's going to be a lot busier."

Monica Peña, the owner of Hair Logix, has not seen an increase in customers since the start of the pandemic. Because of her location on the lower level of the Memorial Union, Peña said, she rarely even sees students pass by her salon. 

The business was decimated when the pandemic struck. Before the pandemic, Hair Logix was getting about 20 customers each weekday. Now, Peña is lucky if she gets one. 

Hair Logix inside of the Memorial Union is pictured on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in Tempe.

Peña wanted to temporarily close the salon, after being in the MU location for about 10 years. ASU, however, did not let her pause operations, she said.

“I wanted to be able to shut down until the students were back (from) online. But they said that, you know, that there would be students here on campus, and there really isn't,” Peña said. “They wouldn't let me put it on pause.”

Instead, Peña is putting her own money into the business, trying to hold on until the fall semester hopefully brings more students to campus, and with them, more revenue. 

“They said that they're going to be back to normal next year,” Peña said. “But what is normal? Can that change again?”

Running a food service business is difficult enough, but people need to eat three times a day. “They don't get a haircut once a day, you know? We just need to have more foot traffic,” Peña said. 

Although the lifting of government-imposed limitations has an impact on local businesses, the changes in revenue are attributed to people feeling comfortable engaging in their communities, Dennis Hoffman, a professor in the Department of Economics, said in an email. 

“It is vaccines and stimulus that are helping to fuel this, not any particular 'lifting' of restrictions, in my opinion, because I am not confident the restrictions were very enforceable in the first place,” Hoffman said. 

For businesses on and near campus like The Crêpe Club, The Bodhi, Fillmore Coffee Co., and Hair Logix, foot traffic is driving revenue.  

“I'm hoping just (that) students get back to campus and we get back to our normal routine,” Tarabichi said.

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