I won’t go into the art of new Downtown, as our Clarke Condé has that sufficiently covered in the Art section this issue—though it is worth noting that a walk down Central Ave. is far more interesting than it has ever been before. What has been a stagnant front of the same businesses for years and years is now a veritable art gallery of unique local visions, all brought to life in vibrant colors and imagery on storefronts up and down the avenue. Be sure to check out his piece on it.
Let’s talk about the first big hampering, which is coronavirus closures. Currently, there is no safe estimate for when bars and concert venues will be able to reopen safely for the public. At this point almost all the bands who had shows scheduled for the year have called off their tours completely, with most assuming touring might resume in February of 2021. Even if that turns out to be true, that means every music venue will have been inactive for 11 months straight. I don’t intend to cast aspersions, but even the deepest pockets would have trouble funding rent for that long on a coveted space in Downtown that large, along with the future cost of rehiring and retraining of staff—not to mention full-on cleaning and upkeep of the interior.
Let’s put this in perspective: Sunshine Theater has a capacity of 1,000 people. Assuming throughout a week of shows, the venue averages 60% capacity (let’s be real, not everyone is a full house draw) giving 600 attendees per night, most of those patrons aren’t ready to leave the show and call it a night. They go out to eat at any number of places in the area, including food trucks, or to wrap up the night with drinks at one of the numerous bars in the vicinity. One venue alone can account for that level of business to Downtown. Now multiply that times the number of venues in the area, plus the people who just want to play a few rounds of pool at Anodyne or take a date to Brixen’s for some drinks, and you realize how much overall foot traffic has gone missing.
The second issue is that most of the businesses Downtown struggled through the long process of ART being completed. Granted, they got hit less hard than Nob Hill, but they still faced issues all the same. Construction on Central Ave. that took years to complete left many hesitant to drive on it at all unless absolutely necessary. Many felt a sigh of relief when the project was completed and the road was opened again. Yet with the launch of the actual ART buses (the real launch) being troubled by a myriad of people not comprehending the “Bus Only” lanes, the problems escalated and kept many people nervous to drive through.
The problem with glass and repairing it lies in the time it takes to make pieces of this size. The windows of Downtown are anything but small, some being literal walls. To custom-create these pieces, safely transport them and install them all factor into a long wait, especially when needed en masse like they currently are. We’re looking at over a month of wait time to get everything back to normal. With the exceptional summer heat we’re experiencing right now, it’s adding extra stressors to those trying to operate, as there is no good way to keep their interiors properly sealed and cooled.
Many businesses have already gone under in the area, including the recently opened 505 Mart and Last Call, a burrito heaven for the late night crowds. Inevitably, we will be seeing more following suit as time goes on. There’s no easy answer to this problem. If there was, it wouldn’t be a problem in the first place. There are options though, which will hopefully be explored sooner rather than later. The first would be a rent freeze. The pushing back of payments on rent or mortgages in the area (though it should be nationwide) would allow these businesses to rest a little easier as they are forced to wait this out. This doesn’t mean rent won’t be due, but that they aren’t required to make payments until things open again, and they could work out a repayment schedule as things continue on.
The second is a community effort. There are many places we cannot go right now. That won’t change. We’re stuck waiting for the country to recover while we maintain our impressively low numbers of new cases and deaths. But ultimately, we need to support those we can. Yes, it can feel like a pain to make the trip Downtown to get lunch, especially if it’s out of the way. But small orders can add up, becoming a make-or-break situation for many of these businesses. By putting a little in, they can get a little back out. Spending locally means your money moves and improves far better than nationally. A mere $20 can move between a ton of businesses before it’s deposited and saved, if everyone purchases local versus a national chain typically keeping the biggest chunk of that money before it ever exchanges hands again. If we keep that flow going through take-out, gift cards, donations and more, we keep the city’s heart beating.
The phrase “we’re all in this together” will be repeated time and time again, probably becoming the motto of the year—though “please scream inside your heart” is an equally viable contender. But it stands true. This is a hard time for everyone, and Downtown—our hub of all things fun and exciting—is getting the worst of it. I, along with many others, am looking forward to the day I can sit down with friends and beers around a table, hugging and high-fiving masklessly and full of joy. In order for that dream to come true, we need to support the place that makes that happen. My challenge to you, bold and powerful readers, is to support Downtown once a week. It’s simple, it’s cheap and if you want to have a cultural center of celebration to look forward to, it’s the only way it’ll survive.