CHAMPAIGN — There was a long line of customers Tuesday at Gameday Spirit in Campustown, so Manager Cory Shumard kept it brief on the phone.
How has business been this week, compared to last year about this time?
“It’s a night-and-day difference compared to this time a year ago,” he said.
With University of Illinois students moving in this week and all state COVID-19 restrictions on businesses lifted, it was looking like old times in Campustown.
“It’s back to the University of Illinois campus we’ve missed,” Shumard said.
While the store at 519 E. Green St. kicked into higher gear in August, he said, “we just came off the best July we ever had.”
That was due to families bringing their kids to the campus areas for tours and a number of summer camps going on, Shumard said.
“If August traffic is any indication, we’re expecting an excellent start to our fall semester,” he said.
Ragstock, a boutique at 627 S. Wright St., C, saw business pick up over the past weekend and Monday as students began returning.
That was after a year and a half of rolling closings and reopenings, according to Manager Diana Emery.
The store has remained open since February this year, but before students started returning, business was a bit slow since local residents don’t tend to shop there, she said.
In addition to its new and recycled clothing and accessories, Ragstock has already begun to put out Halloween merchandise, Emery said, and students planning parties are already buying it.
Business had also picked up Monday and Tuesday at the Bread Company, 706 S. Goodwin Ave., U.
Owner Derrick Aikman said while he thinks it will keep trending up with more students returning, it’s too soon to predict.
The numbers were a bit higher in the past couple of days, he said, but then again, the restaurant’s staffing was lower in the summer.
And as of Tuesday, students weren’t all back on campus yet, he said.
Aikman said the past 18 months has taught him a lot about how to adapt and operate most efficiently, and how customers will respond to changes.
For example, customers have responded well to the outdoor order window that was added to keep a line from forming indoors, he said.
And when he’s made changes based on what he and his staff can handle at any given time, such as closing for the evening this past Saturday, he has found that customers seem to understand.
“I feel that’s one major thing I learned,” Aikman said.
“I own the restaurant. It doesn’t own me.”
Given the worker shortage and continuing pandemic, he’s not ready to gear up too quickly, he said.
“We’re trying to be careful, because we don’t know now what directions we’re going to go,” he said.
While businesses are no longer under the kinds of COVID-19 mitigation restrictions they operated under last year, the current delta-variant-fueled surge has case counts in Champaign County at much higher levels than during the same week last year, when the city of Champaign temporarily suspended indoor service at Campustown bars and restaurants.
The University of Illinois followed with a two-week lockdown for students in early September. This time last year, Champaign County had 122 active COVID-19 cases.
On Tuesday, there were 781, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.