CHAMPAIGN — In other Septembers, this scene in Campustown would have been unheard of:
Plentiful empty parking spots, and along several blocks of Green Street, only about a dozen-ish pedestrians visible on the sidewalks.
That was just after lunch on Thursday, a day after the University of Illinois’ new directive asking students to refrain from going out for all but essential activities for the next two weeks as COVID-19 cases on campus have continued to rise.
Marshall Thompson, a UI senior from Savoy, said it almost feels like a summer on campus as students venture out less.
His response to the UI’s directive: “At this point, we’ve just got to go with it, I think. We don’t want it to spread to regular Champaign.”
In today’s climate, people have to make hard decisions, Thompson said.
“I’m just trusting that the people making these decisions are smarter than I am, and probably have our best interests at heart,” he said.
UI graduate student Mitch Gribble said he understands the UI’s directive, but he feels it’s a tall order for students and probably hard to enforce.
For himself, though, he said, “I’m pretty fine with the directive.”
Some say pedestrian traffic in Campustown had already thinned out considerably before the lockdown on students.
Typically, there are thousands of pedestrians out and around that area, said Karl Gnadt, managing director of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District.
“Now you see 10 people,” he said. “It’s dramatic.”
Indoor service at bars and restaurants in the Campustown area has been suspended for the last couple of weeks by an emergency order from the city of Champaign.
That order is set to expire after Labor Day, so some business owners are waiting to see if the city is going to extend it in light of the UI’s announcements Wednesday, which included a warning from Provost Andreas Cangellaris that if expected progress isn’t made in the next two weeks, the university will be forced to send everyone home.
A city spokesman declined to say whether the city is considering extending the emergency order for Campustown bars and restaurants.
“If the city extends the emergency order, we will send out a news release,” Jeff Hamilton said Thursday. “Sorry, that is all I can say.”
Though students have been urged to leave their homes only for such essential trips as going to class, getting COVID-19 tests and grocery shopping, Bruce Hink, owner of Mia Za’s at 629 E. Green St., C, said he doesn’t plan to temporarily shut down his restaurant.
It’s one of the few in the campus area with outdoor seating, Hink said, and business has been slow.
“The lunch business has pretty much disappeared,” he said. “We’re pretty much doing less business now than we were in July.”
David Murphy, an owner of Murphy’s Pub at 604 E. Green St., C, said that bar has five umbrella tables on Green Street and three tables on the sidewalk.
“It’s been awfully slow,” he said.
Part of the problem has been the hot weather, “so nobody wants to sit outside,” Murphy said.
He arrived at work at 9 a.m. Thursday and noticed parking spots on the 600 block of South Sixth Street were nearly all empty, as opposed to all full as they would be during normal times, he said.
Nor has he seen much pedestrian traffic at lunchtime, Murphy said, especially with many UI staff members continuing to work from home.
One campus-area restaurant without outdoor seating, Cracked, at 619 E. Green St., has been holding its own doing all carry-out business, said manager Michael Dorsey.
“We’ve been doing OK,” he said. “I’m not going to say great.”