Downtown Philadelphia businesses still hurt as employers mull return-to-work plans

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — Downtown is bustling again after two tough years of lockdown, but some streets have yet to come back to life.

“Traffic on Walnut Street in December was 92% of what it was in 2019, but Market Street was only 21% or 22%,” Councilman Allan Domb said. “So these are the offices that need to be opened.”

The workers who fill some of the commercial buildings have not yet returned to the office.

David Rovner, owner of Coventry Deli near 20th and Market streets, definitely notices their absence.

“I rely heavily on the lunch crowd, especially the workers coming into the offices,” Rovner said. “I’ll say they’re 90% of my business throughout the day. And because people aren’t coming into the office, that’s hurting the business tremendously.”

Rovner said it was improving slightly.

From Tuesday to Thursday, he said his store is now seeing about 40% of customers who entered before the pandemic. And it’s a good day.

“With the lack of people coming in, I was only able to bring back about 50% of my pre-pandemic workforce,” Rovner said. “I have reduced my working hours by a few hours a day because it is not necessary to stand when no one comes in.”

Todd Monahan, executive vice president of Wolf Commercial Real Estate, said many were pursuing their leases while experimenting with hybrid back-to-office plans.

“We’re 25-30% actively entering the building every day,” Monahan said. “I think it’s going to take some time yet, probably until the rest of 2022. We need to figure out who needs to come back, how often they come back and how that translates to how much space we might need.”

Until then, Rovner said he was holding up.

“I’m going to keep swimming,” Rovner said. “I’ll try. It seems to be coming back. People seem to be coming back – whether it’s three days a week or two days a week. I’ll take what I can get.”

Domb said it’s important to remember that the workers who are in the office contribute greatly to the local economy.

“When office workers come to work, they don’t just walk into their offices,” Domb said. “They go out for lunch at lunchtime. They go shopping. They meet friends for happy hour. They go out to dinner. local economy.

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