Center City businesses are rebounding from pandemic, report finds

The Philadelphia skyline is pictured in a file photo.

The Philadelphia skyline is pictured in a file photo. (Mark Henninger for Billy Penn)

Center City is back in business — or close to it.

Businesses in the district are recovering from the pandemic, according to the newly released Center City District/Central Philadelphia Development Corporation Center City Retail Update.

More than three-quarters of Center City businesses have reopened, compared with just over half that were open in the spring of 2020. New businesses are also opening, and existing retailers are moving to new, often larger locations, because of a softer leasing market, the report finds.

Taxable retail sales reached 94% of 2019 levels, during the first quarter of 2022. During that same period, restaurant sales reached 74% of 2019 levels.

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The Center City District attributes the rebound to heavy foot traffic. There are 202,000 downtown residents, and more than 100,000 college students reside in the area. In addition, more than half of Center City employees have returned to the office, and the tourism industry has been restored.

“The retail and restaurant recovery is strong throughout Greater Center City, with many of the neighborhoods adjacent to the core that had relied on strong, three-day per week demand, now benefiting from seven-day per week demand from those staying at home,” CCD President Paul Levy said in a statement. “As more workers and visitors return to the downtown core, the more restaurant and retail jobs will be restored.”

As of mid-June, the volume of pedestrians in Center City reached 84% of pre-pandemic levels, and shopper and visitor foot traffic are at 96%. Meanwhile, residential foot traffic exceeds 2019 levels.

“The diverse mix of downtown land-use has sustained the steady presence of pedestrians on sidewalks, day and night: residents, workers, students, visitors, shoppers, and hotel guests,” Levy said.

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The report also finds that the demand for outdoor dining holds strong. There are 68% more outdoor seats in Center City than before the pandemic.

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