Downtown Austin Alliance says these businesses still need help

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Downtown Austin Alliance says downtown is slowly recovering, with increased foot traffic and taxable alcohol sales, and even new businesses opening their doors.

But those numbers still haven’t reached pre-pandemic levels, and the alliance said two areas need a major boost from Austinites: live music districts and overall weekday activity.

Some entertainment districts, like Rainey and West Sixth streets, are thriving and “have either returned to, or exceeded, pre-pandemic levels of interaction,” wrote DAA representatives in an email to KXAN.

But districts “that rely heavily on live music – like Red River and East Sixth Street – continue to lag behind,” according to the report.

This graph from the Downtown Austin Alliance shows a larger increase in alcohol sales for the Rainey and West 6th Street districts than East 6th Street and Red River. (Source: Downtown Austin Alliance)
This graph from the Downtown Austin Alliance shows a larger increase in alcohol sales for the Rainey and West 6th Street districts than East 6th Street and Red River. (Source: Downtown Austin Alliance)

“Austinites can help reconfirm and support our ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ status by attending a show or dining in these districts,” the report authors suggest.

The report indicates a good sign in downtown’s recovery is 36 new businesses have opened since February 2020, most of them restaurants and bars.

They say weekly visits to downtown are also moving in the right direction. In August, that was at 81% of pre-pandemic levels.

However, the bulk of those visits are happening on weekends.

“Weekend numbers and night numbers are at the same or even better than the 2019 levels,” said Jenell Moffett, Downtown Austin Alliance’s associate vice president of strategic initiatives.

That’s the case for Royal Blue Grocery on Congress Avenue, which was closed about a year ago. The owner says they’re inching back toward normalcy.

“Right now, our weekends are as good as they were before the pandemic here,” said owner Craig Staley.

But he says weekday lags are putting this shop behind on sales.

“Our other two stores, they’re right in the center of downtown — both on 3rd Street — and they’re at about 90% of sales from 2019. This one’s at about 70%,” Staley explained.

The alliance’s report says pedestrian counts along Congress Avenue are at or below 60% of what they were on weekdays before the pandemic, and “businesses that rely on office using employees continue to wait for the consistent return of their customer base.”

“They’re used to someone walking by their restaurant or by their coffee shop to pick up their coffee on their way to the next meeting. If that workforce is not there, then that’s just lost… business,” Moffett said.

Staley says that’s the missing piece to his pandemic recovery, and he’s staying optimistic.

“Austinites can help these businesses by being intentional about frequenting them, especially during weekday hours,” the DAA suggested.

Even though we’re seeing metrics go up in many cases, total recovery has been slow to catch up since April of last year. Overall, weekly visits downtown have not fully rebounded. On average, 800,000 people would visit weekly pre-pandemic.

The closest we’ve gotten to that recently is a little over 700,000 in early September. Though, we don’t yet have numbers from both weekends of Austin City Limits Music Festival.

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