Center City businesses still hurting as employers mull return to work plans

"When office workers come to work, they don't just go to their offices," said Councilman Allan Domb.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Center City is bustling again after a tough two years in lockdown, but there are some streets that haven't come back to life yet.

"In December, the traffic on Walnut Street was 92% of what it was back in 2019, but Market Street was only 21% or 22%," said Councilman Allan Domb. "So it's the offices that we need to get open."

Workers that fill up some of the commercial buildings haven't yet returned to the office.

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

"I rely a tremendous amount on the lunch crowd, especially the workers coming into the offices," said Rovner. "I'm going to say they're 90% of my business throughout the day. And with people not coming into the office, it's an extreme hurt on the business."

Rovner said it's getting slightly better.

On Tuesdays through Thursdays, he said his store is now seeing about 40% of customers that came in prior to the pandemic. And that's on a good day.

"With the lack of people coming in, I was only able to bring back about 50% of my workforce prior to the pandemic," said Rovner. "I cut my business hours by a couple of hours a day because there's no need to stand around when no one is coming in."

Todd Monahan, executive vice president of Wolf Commercial Real Estate, said many are continuing their leases while experimenting with hybrid return to office plans.

"We're at 25-30% who are actively coming into the building each day," said Monahan. "I think it's still going to take some time, probably through the balance of 2022. We need to figure out who needs to be back, how often they're coming back and how that translates into the amount of space we may require."

Until then, Rovner said he's holding on.

"I'm going to keep on swimming," said Rovner. "I'm going to try. It seems to be coming back. The people seem to be coming back -- whether three days a week or two days a week. I'll take what I can get."

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

"When office workers come to work, they don't just go to their offices," said Domb. "They go out to lunch at lunchtime. They go shopping. They meet friends for happy hour. They go for dinner. They use all the services of the city...This is very important for us and our local economy."
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