Nick Lahner, '20, stands outside of Campus Pizza, a local Bethlehem business that is struggling with the loss of Lehigh students. Campus Pizza is one of the many local restaurants that has seen a drop in sales since students have left. (Micah Golomb-Leavitt/B&W Staff)

Local businesses struggle with students’ departure

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With Lehigh students’ departure from campus and Gov. Wolf’s urge for restaurants to offer delivery only, local businesses in Bethlehem are struggling.

Following the coronavirus outbreak, Lehigh decided to move to online courses on March 12 for the remainder of the semester. Students were expected to leave campus as soon as possible. 

Local businesses such as Campus Pizza, Tulum and Deja Brew, depend on these students for income. 

Co-owner of Campus Pizza, Angelo Caiazzo, said sales have tremendously dropped since students left early.

“During summer months, when you guys are gone, Lehigh has events like summer school and other programs going on,” he said. “Now there is zero, so there is nothing to supplement you guys leaving.” 

Campus Pizza will have to cut back on employees and watch their bottom line, Caiazzo said.

“We’ve been here for 40 years,” he said. “We saw a lot in those 40 years, but this is one crisis that has caught us all off guard. It affects us financially, physically, mentally, all the way around. Rent is not going to change —we have to still make rent.”

The move to delivery made their situation worse. Caiazzo said customers being told that restaurants can only deliver makes them inclined to avoid restaurants altogether.

Jack Wakely, an employee at Tulum, said Tulum has been slow lately. 

“It is usually pretty dead if the students aren’t here, especially now because of everything else,” Wakely said. “They probably make up, like, 75 percent of the customers.”

Wakely said Tulum’s revenue has gone down. 

He said the impact of students being gone, combined with the coronavirus outbreak, is something the restaurant has never dealt with before. 

“It’s probably going to be rough,” Wakely said. “It depends on how long this lasts.”

Jeff Vaclavik, owner of Deja Brew, said income has decreased substantially. Deja Brew has been open the past two days with take-out as the only option, and business is slow in general, as people get used to the pandemic, he said. 

Vaclavik said even as people adjust, business will not return to normal with the majority of their clientele being gone for now.

“I think students make up a very large percentage of our business normally, so it is pretty drastic right now,” Vaclavik said.

He said he thinks Deja Brew will struggle, but it will be able to survive.

Deja Brew cut back on employee hours and costs a little — signing up to work with GrubHub and possibly other delivery services in order to combat this struggle. 

“We have been through some bad economies and things like that, but nothing quite like this,” Vaclavik said. “I think obviously we are going to struggle for a while, but I think in the long run we will still be here and be back to thriving at some point.”

Vaclavik said they had thought about taking these steps in the past, but never did. 

He said signing up for the delivery services gives them an extra option as a way to get out to people.

“Obviously, we want everyone to stay safe and survive through this and come back at some point, hopefully in the near future, and hopefully we’ll get back to normal,” he said. “Normal will seem like a good thing.”

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