Return of UC Davis students helps small businesses

By Trey Doten, Staff–

UC Davis students have brought a new sense of hope for Downtown Davis businesses that have struggled with COVID-19 since March. When the governor’s mandate to stay home was issued in March, restaurants were forced to shorten their hours, downsize their staff, or close down completely.

Most community members have chosen to stay home due to the virus and, more recently, the poor air quality, leaving restaurants with far fewer customers. One-third of UC Davis students have returned and were welcomed by businesses.

“It’s awesome to see some UCD Students coming back into town. The students are the lifeblood of our economy and a vital cog in our economic engine,” said Tim Mech, president of the Davis Downtown Business Association.

The association, a 32-block Business Improvement District (DBID) formed in 1989, has come up with new ways to help businesses stay afloat. 

Mech and the DDBA sponsored a gift card stimulus program, where DDBA, the City of Davis and outside sponsorships matched 100 percent of gift card purchases for up to $1,000 per business. They were able to infuse over $200,000 of gift card sales into the Davis Downtown. 

Along with the gift card sales, the DDBA have sponsored and supported seating expansion into G Street and the E Street Plaza. Woodstock’s Pizza and Tommy J’s Grill are just two examples of restaurants that have benefited from this new expansion.

However, while some places expanded, others downsized. “The hardest part of this year was having to let go of our staff,” said Tad Franks, the manager of The Hotdogger. 

“Our staff is family to us and some have been with us for upwards of 20 years,” Franks said.

Likewise to The Hotdogger, Crepeville decreased their staff. 

“Our restaurant closed midway through March and the entire staff was laid off. We reopened after a six-month closure, but have cut our business hours in half and reduced the staff to half of what it was,” said Courtney Crawford, manager of Crepeville.

Crepeville now includes a new outdoor deck and the Hotdogger utilizes a large pop up tent covered in its logo to draw attention to the shop.

Davis local Jerry Godfryd is “ecstatic to finally be able to go downtown again.”

“The additional seating around downtown is an encouraging sight and definitely creates an urge to eat out,” Godfryd said.

Although many find it appealing, other residents feel indifferent to the accommodations made downtown. 

“Changes made by restaurants haven’t affected my decision to eat out because if I’m eating out, I’m getting my food to go,” said Alex Agnew, former Blue Devil and current UC Davis Aggie.

To accommodate those who prefer to stay at home, many restaurants have utilized apps like Doordash and Grubhub to deliver food to their buyer’s door. The combination of new seating and delivery services are hoped to continue a positive economic trend for these businesses.

“The weekend of the students’ arrival along with their parents was busy for the town. […] Only time will tell if their return can save a drowning downtown,” Franks said.

As air quality levels improve, business owners hope community members will head downtown.

“Support these businesses; we can’t do it without the awesome support of our community,” Mech said.

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