Small Downtown Businesses Adapt to Fewer Office Workers

Businesses that traditionally serve commuters have had to make adjustments to stay in business as remote work empties out central business districts.

2 minute read

September 20, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

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Small businesses in downtowns across the country are struggling to figure out their future as the pandemic wears on and a return to the traditional office seems further and further away, report Mae Anderson and Tom Krisher. "[N]ow that many companies have postponed plans to bring workers back due to a surging number of COVID-19 cases spurred by the Delta variant, downtown businesses are reckoning with the fact that adjustments made on the fly could well become permanent."

"In Lower Manhattan, 224 businesses closed in 2020 and 2021, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York. About 100 have opened." Lyle Richardson, chief operating officer for restaurant operator A. Marshall Hospitality in Nashville and board member for the Tennessee Hospitality Association, says "he has seen the city’s restaurant industry ravaged by the coronavirus epidemic and estimates that hundreds of restaurants have closed."

Some businesses are seeing a shift in customers. At one restaurant in Manhattan, "[t]he clientele has changed from workers to younger people and families from nearby Battery Park City." According to Jorge Guzman, an assistant professor of business management at Columbia University, "the shift of economic activity away from downtowns is likely to last" as entrepreneurs seek cheaper rents and new customer bases. Meanwhile, business owners warily prepare for the fall as new COVID-19 variants continue to disrupt daily life, using lessons learned so far to adjust their business models and stay afloat.

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