Berkeley students' return to campus a boon for local business

The pandemic has certainly dealt a blow to many businesses especially those in college towns.

But with the return of students to campus comes a much needed boost in business.

Restaurants and other businesses near UC Berkeley are seeing a substantial increase in customers as students are preparing for the first day of classes.

Even after 10 o'clock Monday night, there were a lot of students out and about on the streets near campus.

"It feels like Berkeley again," says Aidan Hill who's starting his senior year.

Telegraph Avenue leading to UC Berkeley is once again vibrant.

"I love the energy. I miss this feeling in Berkeley," says Hill.

Students are getting acclimated to the area and making new friends.

"As soon as we met each other, we were like let's go. Let's go out. Let's go eat," says Jocelyn Galvan, an incoming freshman.

"People lining up for Walgreens. People lining up for restaurants. It's good to see people going out again," says Justin Wu who says he's glad not to have to do remote learning.

It's a sentiment echoed by merchants near campus.

The owner of I.B.'s, a sandwich and cheesesteak shop, says he's seen business steadily increase in recent weeks

"I haven't had time to crunch the numbers yet, but things are looking bright," says Fuad Baba, owner of I.B.'s.

He credits community support for the survival of his business during the pandemic, but says the return of students vital.

"It's such a lively place to be. People come just to like be in the environment. So with the students missing, it just wasn't the same. It isn't the same energy," says Baba.

Less than a mile away at Cornerstone, a restaurant, bar and live music venue, the general bar manager tells me business has tripled recently largely due to the return of students.

"Once the students are not here in Berkeley, it's a ghost town," Alejandro Mendoza with Cornerstone.  He says a recent concert attracted a sold-out crowd.

The venue is booked for the next few months by various campus groups and school athletic teams looking to hold special events.

"Hopefully, nothing gets shut down again. We have a full calendar, all the way through October, November," says Mendoza.

Students say they are cherishing every moment after more than a year of not being able to socialize.

"A lot of pent-up energy. Everybody's been in a go mode for the past five days," says Galvan.

Classes at UC Berkeley start Wednesday.

Students say they can't wait, that they've missed in-person learning, eating and shopping with friends.