Aug 31, 2022 - News

Salt Lake's downtown is No. 1 for pandemic recovery

Illustration of a city with confetti coming down over it.  

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Downtown Salt Lake City is seeing way more activity now than before the pandemic, according to a new analysis of phone location data.

Driving the news: Salt Lake has North America's most recovered major downtown — by far, according to data from UC Berkeley.

  • Researchers used phone location data to see how many visitors were at places of interest — such as shops, restaurants, offices, parks, sports venues — in the downtowns of 62 cities in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Salt Lake City saw 55% more visitors in May 2022 than in May 2019.
  • Only three other downtowns saw more activity this year than before the pandemic: Bakersfield and Fresno, California, and Columbus, Ohio.

The big picture: The shift toward remote work during the pandemic gave people the freedom to leave expensive or crowded cities — and those downtowns tended to have a harder time recovering.

  • San Francisco had the lowest recovery, with just 31% of the activity it had in 2019.
  • Cities with fewer professional, management and science jobs lost fewer people.
  • Cities with more service workers also recovered more easily.

Of note: COVID-prevention policies — like mask mandates and crowd size limits — didn't correlate with faster or slower downtown recovery.

Between the lines: In spring 2020, downtown Salt Lake had about half of the phone traffic it did in 2019.

  • The biggest gains were this spring, when activity rose more than 25% over the previous few months. In fall 2021, activity rose more than 20% from summer.
  • Downtown activity here rose relatively consistently in the two years after the pandemic began, compared to other cities, which saw sharper declines at various points.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Salt Lake City.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Salt Lake City stories

Salt Lake Citypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Salt Lake City.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more