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US Adapt or else: Downtown businesses cope with new reality

11:00  13 september  2021
11:00  13 september  2021 Source:   msn.com

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NEW YORK (AP) — Downtown businesses in the U.S. and abroad once took for granted that nearby offices would provide a steady clientele looking for breakfast, lunch, everyday goods and services and last-minute gifts. As the resilient coronavirus keeps offices closed and workers at home, some are adapting while others are trying to hang on.

Macy Norman, center, serves a table of guests at Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. In Nashville, tourism has come back faster than downtown office workers following COVID. Nashville's reputation as a tourist destination is buoying restaurants while businesses in other downtown areas have had to adapt as offices remained closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) © Provided by Associated Press Macy Norman, center, serves a table of guests at Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. In Nashville, tourism has come back faster than downtown office workers following COVID. Nashville's reputation as a tourist destination is buoying restaurants while businesses in other downtown areas have had to adapt as offices remained closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Some businesses are already gone. The survivors have taken steps such as boosting online sales or changing their hours, staffing levels and what they offer customers. Others are relying more on residential traffic.

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Shalia McCall fills drink orders at Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. In Nashville, tourism has come back faster than downtown office workers following COVID. Nashville's reputation as a tourist destination is buoying restaurants while other businesses in other downtown areas have had to adapt as offices remained closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) © Provided by Associated Press Shalia McCall fills drink orders at Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. In Nashville, tourism has come back faster than downtown office workers following COVID. Nashville's reputation as a tourist destination is buoying restaurants while other businesses in other downtown areas have had to adapt as offices remained closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Many business owners had looked forward to a return toward normalcy this month as offices reopened. But now that many companies have postponed plans to bring workers back, due to surging COVID-19 cases, downtown businesses are reckoning with the fact that adjustments made on the fly may become permanent.

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Mariah Tabb prepares drinks at Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. In Nashville, tourism has come back faster than downtown office workers following COVID. Nashville's reputation as a tourist destination is buoying restaurants while other businesses in other downtown areas have had to adapt as offices remained closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) © Provided by Associated Press Mariah Tabb prepares drinks at Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. In Nashville, tourism has come back faster than downtown office workers following COVID. Nashville's reputation as a tourist destination is buoying restaurants while other businesses in other downtown areas have had to adapt as offices remained closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

In downtown Detroit, Mike Frank’s cleaning business was running out of money and, it seemed, out of time.

Frank started Clifford Street Cleaners eight years ago. Pre-pandemic, monthly revenue was about $11,000, but by last December, when many downtown offices had to close, revenue had dropped to $1,800, Frank said.

Frank had to borrow money from his wife to pay the bills. “It got down to , I was almost ready to go out of business.”

Instead of shutting down, Frank adapted. He converted part of his store into a small market with toothpaste, laundry detergent, shampoo, bottled water, soft drinks and other essentials. He also delivered clean laundry and goods from the store.

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Eventually, some foot traffic returned. With the combination of retail sales and dry cleaning, revenue is back up to about $4,100 per month , he said. That’s enough to keep him afloat, and the figure is improving each month.

In Lower Manhattan, 224 businesses closed their doors in 2020 and 2021, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York. About 100 have opened.

“There’s no question, it’s hard for business districts like ours, we miss our workers,” said Jessica Lappin, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York. “Nobody misses them more than local businesses.”

Lappin predicts office workers will come back, but it might be two or three days a week, on different days or in shifts.

“Just in the way we had to adjust so dramatically to being at home all the time, there is an adjustment to coming back,” she said.

Mariah Tabb carries drinks to a table at Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. In Nashville, tourism has come back faster than downtown office workers following COVID. Nashville's reputation as a tourist destination is buoying restaurants while other businesses in other downtown areas have had to adapt as offices remained closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) © Provided by Associated Press Mariah Tabb carries drinks to a table at Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. In Nashville, tourism has come back faster than downtown office workers following COVID. Nashville's reputation as a tourist destination is buoying restaurants while other businesses in other downtown areas have had to adapt as offices remained closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

A block from Wall Street, Blue Park Kitchen used to have lines out the door each weekday as office workers waited to buy one of the grain bowls Kelly Fitzpatrick served as a healthy lunch option.

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“Things are completely different,” she said.

Rado Asatrian cuts a customer's hair at Man-oj hair salon in London's financial district, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. Before COVID-19, Asatrian usually had 10 to 15 customers a day, but now it’s down to three or four. (AP Photo/Kelvin Chan) © Provided by Associated Press Rado Asatrian cuts a customer's hair at Man-oj hair salon in London's financial district, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. Before COVID-19, Asatrian usually had 10 to 15 customers a day, but now it’s down to three or four. (AP Photo/Kelvin Chan)

Online orders now account for 65% of the business — although they are less profitable because the online apps take a cut. Higher-margin catering orders remain non-existent and Blue Park has reduced its staff by nine workers.

“At our peak in July 2021 (before the delta variant surge), we had about 65% of peak pre-COVID business,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick has seen more offices reopen and hopes more companies return in October, before the slower holiday months of November and December.

Mike Frank, owner of Clifford Street Cleaners, stands in the lobby of his business in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2021. Downtown businesses such as Frank’s that once took for granted an office-worker clientele have had to adapt as offices remain closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mike Householder) © Provided by Associated Press Mike Frank, owner of Clifford Street Cleaners, stands in the lobby of his business in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2021. Downtown businesses such as Frank’s that once took for granted an office-worker clientele have had to adapt as offices remain closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)

Nearby, Aankit Malhotra took over Indian restaurant Benares with his brother in 2019. When the pandemic hit, overnight, their core banking clientele vanished. No one came in for the $13 three-course lunch special the restaurant was known for. Previously lunch accounted for 95% of Benares’ business.

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Items for sale sit on shelves at Clifford Street Cleaners in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2021. Downtown businesses such as Clifford Street Cleaners that once took for granted an office-worker clientele have had to adapt as offices remain closed and workers stay home. Owner Mike Frank converted part of his store into a small market to help bring in some extra revenue. (AP Photo/Mike Householder) © Provided by Associated Press Items for sale sit on shelves at Clifford Street Cleaners in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2021. Downtown businesses such as Clifford Street Cleaners that once took for granted an office-worker clientele have had to adapt as offices remain closed and workers stay home. Owner Mike Frank converted part of his store into a small market to help bring in some extra revenue. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)

Now, Benares has about 10 lunch orders a day, down from 100. But locals, grateful that the restaurant kept its pre-pandemic hours of 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, are keeping the brothers afloat.

Matt Knio has a conversation while sitting in the outdoor dining area of his eatery Cannelle by Matt Knio in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2021. Downtown businesses such as Knio’s that once took for granted an office-worker clientele have had to adapt as offices remain closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mike Householder) © Provided by Associated Press Matt Knio has a conversation while sitting in the outdoor dining area of his eatery Cannelle by Matt Knio in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2021. Downtown businesses such as Knio’s that once took for granted an office-worker clientele have had to adapt as offices remain closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)

Business is back to around 70% of pre-pandemic levels, helped by delivery and dinner meals. The clientele has changed from workers to younger people and families from nearby Battery Park City.

Monserrat Garibaldi works in the kitchen area of Cannelle by Matt Knio, in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2021. Downtown businesses such as Cannelle that once took for granted an office-worker clientele have had to adapt as offices remain closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mike Householder) © Provided by Associated Press Monserrat Garibaldi works in the kitchen area of Cannelle by Matt Knio, in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2021. Downtown businesses such as Cannelle that once took for granted an office-worker clientele have had to adapt as offices remain closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)

“It’s nice to see not just corporate people downtown. It’s becoming more of a family-oriented place.”

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Jorge Guzman, assistant professor of business management at Columbia University, said the shift of economic activity away from downtowns is likely to last. There has been a boom in entrepreneurship in non-downtown New York areas like Jamaica, Queens, and the South Bronx.

“Downtowns are not going to die, exactly. It’s not like Midtown’s going anywhere. But it’s going to be a little bit more of a mix, more residential and mixed-use concepts.”

Across the Atlantic in London, office workers have been slowly trickling back to their desks since the government lifted COVID-19 lockdown restrictions on July 19. The U.K. saw a peak of delta cases in July, but the numbers fell sharply in about two weeks. Recently, however, cases have been climbing again.

Davion Lyons makes a drink for a customer in the kitchen area of Cannelle by Matt Knio, in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2021. Downtown businesses such as Cannelle that once took for granted an office-worker clientele have had to adapt as offices remain closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mike Householder) © Provided by Associated Press Davion Lyons makes a drink for a customer in the kitchen area of Cannelle by Matt Knio, in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2021. Downtown businesses such as Cannelle that once took for granted an office-worker clientele have had to adapt as offices remain closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)

The number of commuters is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, making it tough for small businesses in Central London’s financial district to survive.

A sign in a window advertises retail leasing in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2021. Downtown businesses that once took for granted an office-worker clientele have had to adapt as offices remain closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mike Householder) © Provided by Associated Press A sign in a window advertises retail leasing in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2021. Downtown businesses that once took for granted an office-worker clientele have had to adapt as offices remain closed and workers stay home. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)

“It was amazing, it was good, it was busy before the pandemic,” said Rado Asatrian, who has worked as a barber at the Man-oj hair salon in the financial district for six years. Before COVID-19 , he usually had 10 to 15 customers a day, but now it’s down to three or four.

“Now, it’s just so empty,” said Asatrian. He said he is considering moving to a busier location, switching careers, or moving abroad.

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In some downtowns, while the workers are still remote, the tourists are back and providing a boost to businesses.

In Atlanta, Kwan’s Deli and Korean Food is doing just about as much summertime business as it did before the pandemic, said Andrew Song, whose family owns the restaurant.

At the height of the pandemic, Kwan’s had lost about 80% of its business, reduced its hours and cut staff. But the deli has bounced back thanks to tourists from the Georgia Aquarium and events at a nearby convention hall.

Still, the delta variant surge is creating uncertainty about the fall. Song said he has heard that some businesses have relocated permanently or downsized.

“It’s sort of hard to imagine what it will look like with office regulars not returning or being more remote,” he said.

In Nashville, Lyle Richardson, chief operating officer for restaurant operator A. Marshall Hospitality, said he has seen the city’s restaurant industry ravaged by the coronavirus epidemic. He sits on the board of the Tennessee Hospitality Association trade group and estimates that hundreds of restaurants have had to close.

Those who stayed open made adjustments. Richardson stopped serving lunch at one restaurant, Deacon’s New South, to focus on dinner only after office workers went remote. But he kept his other restaurant, Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant, open from 7 a.m to 11 p.m., to attract the tourists flocking back to the city.

“The normalcy we called pre-COVID, that no longer exists,” he said. “We have to be prepared, on our toes, to adapt. ”

Back in Detroit, business at Cannelle by Matt Knio, a downtown bakery and sandwich shop, has rebounded above 2019 levels after a precipitous drop-off early in the pandemic. Baseball and football crowds are back, and outdoor dining and takeout remain popular.

If businesses are subject to more restrictions when the weather gets colder, Knio believes he can rely on the lessons learned so far in the pandemic to get by.

“I think we know our way around now, and how to deal with it,” he said. “We’ll be able to do takeout and curbside pickup.”

___

Krisher reported from Detroit. AP Writer Kelvin Chan in London and Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta contributed to this report.

UN to world leaders: To curtail warming, you must do more .
Pressure keeps building on increasingly anxious world leaders to ratchet up efforts to fight climate change. There's more of it coming this week in one of the highest-profile forums of all — the United Nations. For the second time in four days, this time out of U.N. headquarters in New York, leaders will hear pleas to make deeper cuts of emissions of heat-trapping gases and give poorer countries more money to develop cleaner energy and adapt to the worsening impacts of climate change.“I'm not desperate, but I'm tremendously worried,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told The Associated Press in a weekend interview.

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