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Cleveland businesses recovering from pandemic; owners hopeful for the future

Posted at 5:26 PM, Oct 22, 2021

CLEVELAND — As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, business leaders in Cleveland say the state of Downtown is strong.

Those same businesses are hoping that 2022 brings more growth, banking on places like First Energy Stadium and Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse being back to full capacity.

2021 has been a rebound year for Downtown and one key indicator has been the rate of hotel occupancy. Cleveland has showed steady improvement since May and is currently sitting at roughly 80% of prepandemic occupancy.

But bars and restaurants haven’t been quite so fortunate.

The Ohio Restaurant Association reports that the Buckeye state’s restaurant industry has lost more than 3,100 restaurants since the pandemic began due to closures.

While some have closed, new restaurants have opened like Ujerk Caribbean Eatery. Ujerk opened in July of 2020, right in the heart of the pandemic.

“There was never a time where we were we said we weren’t going make this thing happen,” said co-owner Jeremiah Perkins. “It’s just uncertainty, because a lot of the shipments that we were expecting kind of came late. A lot of the products we wanted came late.”

Opening during COVID also meant they had no baseline to gauge sales from, however Perkins said they’ve steadily noticed more people buzzing around Downtown.

“We’re having more catering orders, and we’ve noticed that a lot of our catering orders have picked up with a lot of the businesses Downtown,” he said.

Retail vacancy is still hovering around 12%, but those Downtown workers Perkins refers to are slowly trickling back to the office. With 41 home games on the Cavaliers schedule, he’s hoping to keep the ball rolling into the winter.

“That’s the icing on top of the cake, we have our business crowd, but then our event crowd even better,” he said.

Cleveland is the smallest market to have an MLB, NBA and NFL franchise, so the extra crowds for games means even more to Northeast Ohio.

“We know anecdotally each game brings a lot of business and supports a lot of jobs in our Downtown region,” said David Gilbert, CEO of Destination Cleveland. “We’re not out of the woods yet. I think it’s going to be a touch-and-go winter for a lot of places. But we are so far ahead of where we were a year ago.”

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