Telegraph Avenue district businesses struggle to remain open amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Restaurants and businesses in Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue district are facing a large decline in business due to the spread of COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, and the shelter-in-place order.

The order has limited businesses from nonessential operations. Businesses near the UC Berkeley campus that generally cater to students are facing problems, as many students have gone home after campus announced its decision that remote instruction will continue through the semester’s end.

In accordance with the order, essential businesses are able to remain open with limited operations. The order also bans all dine-in food service for restaurants while permitting takeout or delivery options, and it limits nonessential businesses to online sales.

“With so many students having left Berkeley to be with their families through the pandemic, small businesses on Southside and in Downtown are facing particular difficulty attracting customers and staying open,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson in an email.

Some businesses around the campus have remained open, including Copy Central, Walgreens, Hi-Fidelity and Johnston’s Market. Some restaurants, such as Abe’s Pizza, Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, Berkeley Thai House and Cafe Durant, also continue to offer takeout or delivery.

The Telegraph Business Improvement District, or TBID, website contains a detailed list of businesses open during the shelter-in-place order.

Cafe Durant manager Hector Orozco said he is unsure whether his business will be able to remain open for more than a month.

“It will take a few months to get everything back to running — not better, but running,” Orozco said. “Fifty percent of restaurants are not going to be able to survive.”

Orozco added that his business will need to apply for government grants, as well as work with its building owner to delay rent payments.

At the March 17 City Council meeting, the city approved several emergency measures to aid affected communities. Among those measures was the Berkeley Relief Fund, which provides up to $3 million in emergency relief grants to small businesses, nonprofit arts organizations and worker rent support. A second measure was also passed that prohibits landlords from evicting renters for delayed rent while the local state of emergency is in place, extending to businesses.

The Berkeley Relief Fund website allows for donations to be made; as of press time, the fund has received more than $600,000 as it aims to match the approved $3 million. TBID executive director Alex Knox said the goal is to make the funds available to the community “as quickly as possible.”

“If everyone can consider finding small ways to chip into those small businesses, by buying gift cards or joining online virtual events, those small things can be really helpful,” Knox said.

Contact Nat Gott at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @natgott_dc.