Downtown business owners say the area is nearing pre-pandemic activity levels just over a month after Gov. John Bel Edwards lifted the last of Louisiana’s coronavirus restrictions.
Specifically, foot traffic downtown has definitely increased over the past week, says Charles Daniel, owner of bicycle rental company Geaux Ride.
During weekdays business is still slow, Daniel says, but it picks up around Thursday and into the weekend.
The more that people are aware downtown has reopened, Daniel says, the more patrons will come out. Businesses returning to more consistent hours of operation will help, he says, along with the return of more programs and festivals.
The nightlife crowd is growing larger, too, says Dylan Gautreau, general manager of City Bar, which was closed for 14 months and reopened seven weeks ago. People missed the nightclub, he says.
City Bar is not the same as it once was, but it’s getting closer. It’s open only on Fridays and Saturdays for now.
Ben Blackwell, Courtyard Marriott and Hampton Inn general manager, also says the central business district is livening up. There have been more visitors from Texas, Florida and states in between to the two hotels in recent weeks, he says, and they have had more Baton Rouge residents looking to get out of the house for “staycations.”
Sales at Schlittz & Giggles on Third Street, where many bargoers stop for a slice of pizza, are not back where they were in 2019, but are better than expected, says manager Christian Swain. The end of mask mandates and social distancing guidelines shifted responsibility for COVID-19 safety from businesses to individuals, something Swain thinks may have made customers more comfortable.
Tourists will hopefully return during the fall, and festivals will bring in more downtown visitors, Swain says. This past weekend, the Soul Food Festival brought an increase of customers Friday and Saturday.
“It’s not back to where it was,” Swain says. “It’s still summer and slow, but it’s coming back.”