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One Year Into the Pandemic: How Is Downtown Phoenix Doing?

by Taylor Bishop
Community Taylor Bishop March 19, 2021

With more than 3,700 housing units under construction downtown, including The Adeline (pictured right), the future continues to look bright for DTPHX. (Photo: Fara Illich)

In March 2020, much of the life and activity in Downtown Phoenix ground to a halt.

A number of small businesses had no choice but to close, either temporarily or permanently. Hundreds of events were canceled, and major entertainment venues were shuttered. Most downtown employees began working from home, and have yet to return to the office.

But one thing never ceased. Downtown’s incredible momentum over the past decade helped position Phoenix’s urban core as one of the hottest development areas in Arizona — and that momentum never stopped.

Higher education expansion, rapid residential growth, a steady influx of tech and biomedical jobs, and our strong arts and culture community are giving us an edge that means great things for existing businesses and those looking to join our flock.

“On the construction side, we’re seeing unprecedented development, projects are ahead of schedule in some cases, and light rail is progressing along,” said Devney Preuss, president and CEO of Downtown Phoenix Inc. (DPI). “Downtown is going to look very different when people come back, especially if they’ve been out of the office since March 2020. The future is bright, but it’s going to take all of us right now, with our collaboration and support of local businesses, to ensure that favorite local coffee shops and restaurants are still there and open when people return.”

How Businesses Have Adjusted

The ways in which the community came together to help local businesses, nonprofits and neighbors in-need are some of the bright spots of the past year. For example, the Visit Phoenix “Together, We Rise” t-shirt series supported our friends struggling within the Greater Phoenix hospitality community, and Crescent Ballroom’s burrito fundraiser helped nonprofits in need.

It’s been hard to see businesses we love close, like Nobuo at Teeter House and Phoenix Public Market Cafe, but DTPHX has also had a surprising number of new businesses open in the pandemic, according to Preuss.

In fact, Downtown Phoenix is projected to have more restaurants open by the start of the second quarter of 2021 than were opened in the second quarter of 2020.

Dog Haus Biergarten, a downtown business that actually opened in the summer of 2020, has seen steady customers at their CityScape location.

But, realistically, the pandemic has meant drastic revenue decreases for many businesses.

Spoonz Cafe, a downtown staple for 18 years, has seen a 60 percent decrease in business.

“I’ve tried to utilize whatever resources I can,” said Denise Bismore, owner of Spoonz. “The City put grants out and I was able to get a grant in the very beginning and that really helped me get through the hump, as well as PPP money.”

While Bismore had to furlough the majority of her staff, she notes that the community has helped in many ways to support her local business.

“When the pandemic first started, I had big corporations come and buy gift cards from me, and I also have seen many customers hold off on redeeming Spoonz coupons until times get better,” Bismore said.

As a participating business of the DTPHX Dollars program, Denise has also seen some new customers, and like she says, “every little bit helps.”

Several businesses have also taken advantage of temporary outdoor dining programs from the City of Phoenix.

So, you can now eat and drink outside at downtown favorites like Bitter & Twisted, Zen Thai, and The Kettle Black.

And, Downtown Phoenix Inc. has worked to create temporary outdoor dining activations at CityScape Phoenix and Renaissance Square, as well as helping businesses through the patio process from permit to execution.

How To Support Businesses

Dr. Jason Klepfisz, owner of Urban Eyecare, shows off DTPHX merch with two members of his team in their Washington Street shop. (Photo: Lauren Potter)

As noted in this Dec. 2020 article by “The Arizona Republic,” there are ways to help local businesses without spending money, if that’s not feasible for you right now.

Sharing and engaging with a business’ social media content and spreading the word to your friends can have a ripple effect.

Downtown Phoenix Inc. has also created incentive programs to get people in the doors of local downtown businesses.

Launched in June 2020, the Buy & Fly program has distributed nearly 1,000 pieces of DTPHX merch — including nearly 50 pounds of locally-roasted coffee beans.

“We have had support from DPI through social media, direct marketing support, helping us spread the word to others, and including us in different promotions,” said Dr. Jason Klepfisz, owner and optometrist at Urban Eyecare. “Programs like Buy & Fly help to reignite the passion in our community.”

And in February 2021, another program DTPHX Dollars was created by DPI to distribute $5 vouchers redeemable like cash at participating businesses.

Through the sponsorship support of Valley Metro, Katerra, Arizona Center and Quarles & Brady LLP, at least 4,000 vouchers will be directly infused into downtown businesses through the DTPHX Dollars program.

“We’re giving customers a couple of great incentives like the Buy & Fly program for supporting our local businesses downtown, and we’re infusing real cash into the businesses through DTPHX Dollars,” Preuss of DPI said.

In addition to marketing support and consumer incentives, DPI is conducting one-on-one meetings with small business owners and employees, offering loan and grant information, and giving frequent updates on relevant downtown news.

Plus, with new takeout meters located near many downtown businesses, you can easily grab your favorite takeout or try somewhere new.

What’s Next?

With hopes for the return of outdoor events in the fall and winter of 2021, paired with several hotels recently completing renovations, as well as new hotels (like AC Hotels at the Arizona Center), and hotels under construction (Hyatt Place and Home2Suites), downtown’s momentum continues to build.

On top of that, there has been a 77 percent increase in total commercial and residential projects under construction in the 1.7-square-mile Downtown Redevelopment Area between the last quarters of 2019 and 2020.

As downtown’s offices, sporting venues, and restaurants find new ways to safely bring people back, DPI will continue to work on business recovery efforts like DTPHX Dollars and Buy & Fly, as well as create socially-distanced events (Urban Wine Walk Week is coming soon!).

And, the Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors are still working rain or shine to support businesses and those exploring downtown, while the Clean & Green team has continued to sanitize high-touch areas.

“The value we all share downtown is taking care of our neighbors and taking care of each other, and we’re all thinking about how we can keep people safe while supporting local businesses,” Preuss said.

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