Downtown Seattle businesses fighting to stay afloat post-pandemic

In downtown Seattle, the impacts of the pandemic continue to weigh heavily on businesses. A recent study by University of California, Berkeley, looks at downtown recovery in major cities across the country and parts of Canada. Of the 62 major cities, Seattle has been one of the slowest to recover, ranking 40.

“The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on our downtown and downtowns across the country and across the world,” says Jon Scholes with the Downtown Seattle Association. “We’re still having businesses that are waiting for customers to come back.”

The study took into account office vacancy rates, public transportation ridership and retail spending.

Business owner Paul Pugliese says he doesn’t need a study; he sees the pandemic impact firsthand. His Millheads Barbershop is sandwiched between two vacant buildings.

“We’ve lost half the restaurants at least. There’s so many shops that have gone out of business, and the neighborhood has really been struggling to come back,” says Pugliese.

Liz Corona, with Mighty-O Donuts, has seen these challenges too.

“I feel like the working-from-home aspect has caused that lack of influx of people,” says Corona.

The Downtown Seattle Association has been monitoring the return-to-work numbers and says they’re hopeful about what they’ve seen this summer.

“We’re seeing a lot more office workers today than we were six months ago. We had the most in the last month, this August, since the start of the pandemic,” says Scholes.

He adds that tourism is also helping with downtown recovery. More than 3 million visitors came to Seattle last month, and the UC Berkeley study doesn’t include the summer numbers.

“We did lag (behind) other cities back in the spring, but if you look at the three most recent months, downtown has been rocking and rolling,” says Scholes.

He says in August more people are living downtown than ever before, and hotel occupancy rates in Seattle were one of the country’s highest.

Pugliese agrees that he noticed an increase in foot traffic over the past month, a trend he hopes will continue.

“It’s a lot better than it was a few months ago,” says Pugliese.