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Cal Campus Closure Leaves Usually Bustling Berkeley A Ghost Town

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) -- UC Berkeley is housing approximately 6,500 students for the fall semester, but with COVID-19 restricting in-person classes, that total doesn't compare to the over 60,000 students who usually roam the area.

Many of the businesses that depend on those students are struggling to stay afloat.

Take a walk around UC Berkeley and it's hard not to be struck by just how empty the campus is. What is even more striking is what's happening on the edge of the campus.

Take the intersection of Bancroft and Telegraph, for example. Ordinarily, those sidewalks can be nearly impassable from the crowds of students. On Thursday afternoon, people were scarce and there were certainly no crowds.

Business owners see trouble ahead.

"This is my 36th year," said Jamal, owner of Zak's Snacks. "I have not seen anything like this. This is a disaster."

During the peak of lunch hour at Hearst and Euclid, there might have been a half-dozen people grabbing food at any one time. Without a student body, this block of businesses -- like the campus right beside it -- sits largely deserted.

"They bring life to campus," said Jamal of the students. "Without them, there's no life here."

"Yeah, around 60,000 students, I believe," said Berkeley business owner Devin LLoyd. "For commerce, it has definitely taken a huge hit."

Lloyd bought the Stuffed Inn back in February. He said the pandemic has been challenging enough, but no one was prepared for this.

"What we are seeing is mostly regulars that have been coming for a long time that live in the area," said LLoyd. "But younger people, you just don't see them."

"Students are usually just everywhere," Berkeley resident Margaret Hurlbert said while waiting for lunch. "It's just really, really empty. It's sad."

Neighborhood regulars like Hurlbert are also getting rattled as empty sidewalks start producing dark or empty storefronts.

"There's been, unfortunately, a couple of places -- two or three on this block alone -- that have had to close their doors," LLoyd said.

"I am running at 25 percent capacity of what I normally make," said Jamal of his cafe's business. "It's very obvious that it's hard on everyone."

"So we are just kind of weathering the storm at this point," LLoyd says. "Hoping for the best."

UC Berkeley does have plans for limited, voluntary, in-person learning, once conditions allow for it. There currently is no timetable for that.

For now, the campus and the businesses that depend on its students, must go on with fewer people than one would see here during a normal summer break.

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