Oct 13, 2021 - Business
A glimmer of hope for Austin's COVID-stricken businesses
Customers examine doughnuts at an Austin shop
Customers wearing protective masks view a display case of doughnuts for sale at a store in Austin. Photo: Mary Kang/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The number of businesses operating downtown has increased by more than 60 since February, according to the latest biannual report from the Downtown Austin Alliance.

Why it matters: It's a promising sign for an area that was hit hard by business closures during the pandemic. Even after Gov. Greg Abbott outlined which businesses could reopen, many still struggled because of decreased consumer demand and limited pedestrian activity.

By the numbers: Foot traffic has steadily improved this year along Congress Avenue — it's now around 91% of pre-pandemic activity, the report found.

  • Taxable alcohol sales are increasing at downtown restaurants, bars and entertainment venues after falling 99% year over year in April 2020. Alcohol sales reached nearly $30 million in July, $5 million more than in July 2019.
  • Downtown hotel room occupancy rates remained above 50% since March, thanks to booming business over the weekends.
  • Restaurants and bars make up the majority of the new businesses, with half of the new businesses filling the space of previous tenants. Two are occupying fresh real estate, and the remaining 19 are moving into retail space that was vacant prior to the pandemic, according to the Downtown Austin Alliance.
Courtesy of Downtown Austin Alliance

Between Aug. 24 and Sept. 5, the Downtown Austin Alliance identified 532 operating businesses, including 36 new ones. There are 740 occupied storefronts.

Courtesy of Downtown Austin Alliance

Yes, but: At least 97 businesses have permanently closed their doors since the pandemic began, according to the group.

  • Businesses continue to struggle on weekdays without employees returning to office buildings.
  • Plus, the status of another 44 businesses remains unknown, or they showed no signs of operating in the latest count.

How to help: "Downtown is recovering," the report said, but slow demand on weekdays continues to hurt businesses. "Austinites can help these businesses by being intentional about frequenting them, especially during weekday hours."

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