Downtown Baton Rouge restaurants and businesses take hit from drop in office occupancy

It’s been just five years since then-President Barack Obama ordered oyster, shrimp and roast beef po-boys, along with some boudin balls to go, in front of a bustling lunchtime crowd at Poor Boy Lloyd’s at the corner of Lafayette and Florida streets.

But since that day in early 2016, Poor Boy Lloyd’s business has been sliced in half, according to Business Report. Lunch sales are down 40% to 50% on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays compared to a typical weekday before the COVID-19 pandemic.

For mom-and-pop establishments like Poor Boy Lloyd’s, the widespread adoption of remote working over the past year has effectively removed the downtown office crowd and, consequently, the weekday business lunch, once deemed a surefire revenue generator.

Moreover, multiple business shutdowns—at first, mandated by the state and later the result of a record-breaking hurricane season and a once-in-a-blue-moon ice storm—have contributed to a sharp decline in year-over-year revenues.

In a typical year, thousands of office workers a day are in downtown Baton Rouge buying coffee or lunch, or sticking around to attend an event. However, for the past year, its office spaces have largely been empty or occupied only part time, as many state government agencies have elected to keep their workers home in an effort to protect public health.

While some workers have returned to their downtown offices, the steep decline in occupancy has had a significant ripple effect on already struggling restaurants, bars and other Main Street businesses throughout the U.S.

Celeste Gill, who owns 520 Spain and Chef Celeste Bistro downtown and is trying to open a commercial kitchen on Government Street for the Louisiana Culinary Institute by the end of the year, says that downtown businesses are trying to reinvent themselves.

“Downtown is holding its own right now,” Gill says. “Once we fully reopen and workers are back in their offices, that will help a lot.”

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