For 35 years, The Wall has served as an iconic outdoor food court on Main Campus where students go to study, socialize or grab lunch from their favorite food stand.
When campus closed in March, the stands shut down with it, and five out of six of them reopened this fall. As brick and mortar food stands along 12th Street, owners face challenges in worrying about paying for rent, supplies and utilities during the COVID-19 pandemic while Temple University classes remain online.
“It’s down, definitely not like before because of the foot traffic,” said Eric Laro, manager of Eddie’s Pizza. “I couldn’t tell you an exact number, it definitely would be, I would say over 50 percent.”
After campus’ spring closure, Temple discussed financial concerns with vendors at The Wall and allowed them to defer rent for 18 months with zero percent interest, said Linda Frazer, director of real estate. This period will begin when the university reopens at normal capacity, she added.
Frazer sent the businesses a letter saying they would be expected to pay rent beginning in September, but it was rescinded after the university moved all non essential courses online and more than 2,000 students canceled their housing, she said.
“It wasn’t fair to start collecting rent again, so they’re back to not having to pay their rent,” Frazer added. “At this particular point, until we really know what’s going to happen with the spring semester, I can’t tell you when it resumes. It’s really up in the air.”
The university has not yet announced if classes will continue online or return to in-person learning in the Spring 2021 semester.
At Orient Express, Johny Thai has two employees on staff, but is struggling this semester because his stand only makes “a couple hundred a day,” he added.
“Usually we make about $500 a week, but now only get about $120, $130,” said Thai, who’s owned the stand since 1989.
Thai receives about $300 from unemployment each week in addition to what he is making at Orient Express, he added.
“We still owe some money from Temple for the rent but I don’t know how much and how we’re gonna pay them,” Thai said. “So, I have to wait and see what happens.”
Frazer is in contact with vendors about any changes to rent payments, she said.
Linda Tran, an employee of Tai’s Vietnamese Food for 16 years, said business has been slow at The Wall.
“There’s not a lot of customers now,” she said. “So, I hope next semester the students can come back and that way we will keep up the good business we are.”
Richie Jr., the owner of Richie’s sandwich shop, said the university has been helping the stand through financial troubles due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a really fine line with a lot of things,” Richie Jr. said. “But, you know, they’re not knocking down our doors or locking them so you know, you have to be respectful for that.”
During Main Campus’ closure in the spring and summer, some food trucks moved to serve events in other neighborhoods of Philadelphia, The Temple News reported.
“If we were able to move, where would we move to?” Richie Jr. said. “You know, everywhere is just as bad as everywhere else.”
Jim Amzovski, co-owner of Fame’s Famous Pizza, said they have not paid rent since March and they are saving up to pay for the six months.
The longer they defer, the worse the rent payment will become, because they will owe the university a large amount of money, he added.
“Sometimes we don’t even get a paycheck because we’re actually saving up the money to save for the rent,” Amzovski said
Laro, a 2020 marketing alumnus, said while the university has communicated with them, rent deferment has been their only relief.
“We’re still going to have to pay it, just later on,” he added. “We haven’t gotten really any breaks. So it’s just deferment, that’s really it.”
He isn’t too concerned about paying rent because he believes things “hopefully will go back to normal soon,” Laro said.
“Once people start, you know, figuring out how to handle the situation correctly, safely and I would say in a timely manner, not even us but everyone could get back to where they were last year,” Laro added.