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How Some Main Street Businesses Survived the Pandemic

Despite the economic blow dealt by last year's lockdowns, business districts in smaller cities like Wilkes-Barre managed to weather the crisis.
June 10, 2021, 8am PDT | Diana Ionescu | @aworkoffiction
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Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a city that once relied on coal production as its main economic driver, has struggled to maintain a vibrant business district. As the pandemic hit, Jonno Rattman, Michael Corkery, Alana Celii, and Gabriel Gianordoli of the New York Times photographed the city's Main Street and its transformation over the course of an unprecedented year, chronicling the challenges and resilience of local businesses.

While some businesses, particularly those already facing hard times before the pandemic, did shut down, "[a] survey by the National Main Street Center of several hundred communities found that for every business that closed in a city the size of Wilkes-Barre, 1.4 new ones opened up." According to an April 2020 survey, "more than half of the downtown Wilkes-Barre businesses that responded said they were at risk of closing permanently. In the end, only six did." Along with the Paycheck Protection Program, which awarded nearly $800 billion through over 11 million loans that kept many small businesses afloat, "[l]ow interest rates and falling rents have also aided entrepreneurship." 

But local boosters such as Larry Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership, worry that businesses will continue to be negatively impacted by the losses of the past year even as business returns to normal. "'I’ve begun to worry that many Main Street businesses may face a sort of economic equivalent of Covid long-haul,' he said. 'Making it through the shutdowns only to confront a persistent, longer-term struggle.'"

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Published on Tuesday, June 1, 2021 in The New York Times
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