With students off-campus, Wyandotte Street West restaurants wonder how they'll survive

Two business owners tell CBC Windsor what it's like after the University of Windsor's move to online classes.

University of Windsor extends online learning, leaving campus empty

The Green Bean Cafe sees the bulk of its business come from the University of Windsor. Now, they'll have to adapt or go on a prolonged hiatus if they can't get that clientele back. (Green Bean Cafe)

The decision by the University of Windsor to stick with primarily online classes in the fall semester is a blow to the many businesses surrounding the campus.

More than 15,000 full-time students will not be on campus, meaning foot traffic to local restaurants on Wyandotte Street West will be significantly affected. 

A popular coffee shop for students and faculty alike, the Green Bean Cafe, has been feeling the pinch since the COVID-19 pandemic started. 

"Quite a hit," said Kyle Lefaive, part owner of the cafe. "A good 80 per cent [of our business] is probably student-based, and then another five to ten per cent of our total revenue demographic would be probably staff and faculty at the university, so it's looking pretty dire."

Lefaive said his business is not easy to find, being tucked away down a set of stairs, and not easily identified from street level. He's worried new customers are less likely to walk in. He's also concerned many people may choose large coffee chains due to COVID-19 concerns. 

He said if things keep going the way they are, he and his business partners may have to consider a prolonged hiatus. 

"We are in the same boat as Kyle," said Terry Wong, part owner of Eros Asian Eatery. "About 80 per cent of business was from faculty and students."

Terry Wong, co-owner of Eros Asian Eatery, said his business has had to adapt and remodel in the past and the current pandemic situation is no different. (Submitted by Terry Wong)

But Wong said his business is used to making changes to stay afloat and is seeing this pandemic and its consequences no differently. He believes there is opportunity to adapt to the times. 

"The opportunity is, throughout the years a lot of customers are saying 'We want to come down to Wyandotte West but it's hard to find parking spaces.' Now those clients can come down and have lunch with us, we just have to let them know what we have to offer," he said. 

"I think the government is doing a lot already for the small businesses. But we can only rely on the government so much. In my opinion the Windsor West area, especially around the university, it really is under-utilized."

LISTEN | Hear more from the business owners about operating during COVID-19:

On a typical school day the University of Windsor campus is a busy place. But come the fall semester, it's likely to be crickets by comparison. And that is not good news for businesses in the area. Tony Doucette speaks with Kyle Lefaive, part owner of the Green Bean Cafe, and Terry Wong, co-owner of Eros Asian Eatery. 12:34

Wong proposes the roughly 30 restaurants in the 3 or 4-block area should band together to attract customers since there is less foot traffic. 

"We should really talk to each other more and show what Windsor has to offer," he said. 

"Using that creativity, I think it will be less dire," said Lefaive, who likes the idea. 

But his business is a little different with fewer specialized options, he said.

"Until we can tap in to our returning customer base ... I like to remain optimistic but at the same time I have my reservations on everything," he said. 

Co-owner of Eros Asian Eatery, Terry Wong, said his business will miss the University of Windsor clientele this fall as classes are online due to COVID-19. But Wong said it's an opportunity for restaurants in the area to reach a wider range of customers. (Submitted by Terry Wong)

The City of Windsor announced it will be waiving fees for sidewalk cafe permits and outdoor cafes located on public rights of way, for the remainder of this year. Those permits would be granted once the province allows restaurants and bars to reopen dine-in facilities.

The goal is to allow those businesses to create accessible open spaces where customers can adhere to physical distancing guidelines. But for both Wong and Lefaive, current infrastructure would not support that idea. 

For now they have to find other ways to get by. 

"This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime challenge we are looking at for small businesses in the area," said Wong. "This will be a little tough to deal with but I'm confident we'll be OK."

The Green Bean Cafe tucked away on Wyandotte Street West stands to lose about 80 per cent of their clientele now that the University of Windsor has committed to online classes for the fall semester. (Green Bean Cafe)

With files from Windsor Morning


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